Almost finished' build of Windows 8.1 still a mess

Now that Windows 8.1 Build 9471 is widely available, it's time to take another look at the painful changes in Windows 8 'Blue'

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'Almost finished' build of Windows 8.1 still a mess
A little over a month ago I wrote about the problems I had encountered with the Milestone Preview version of Windows 8.1. Since that time we've been treated to a very-nearly-finished version of Windows 8.1, Build 9471, and I've been pounding on it pretty hard. It looks like many of the problems I described earlier aren't going to get fixed. Worse, I've encountered several additional disappointments.

Microsoft Account problems -- something old, something new
I wrote last month about difficulties in installing Windows 8.1 without using a Microsoft Account. Although it's possible to install Win 8.1 by using a local account, the means for doing so are not at all obvious. Microsoft insists, on the MS Answers forum, that "the option to create a local account will be made available with the final release of Windows 8.1," but I haven't seen any changes in the installation process from the Milestone Preview.
For those who upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 by going through the Microsoft Store, this is not an issue -- you need a Microsoft Account to get into the store in the first place. But I've seen no easy way to upgrade from Windows 7, or install from a download or DVD, without signing up for a Microsoft Account.
Of course, every time you log on to Windows with a Microsoft Account, Microsoft gets a full record of where and when you've logged on. Not everyone wants to use Windows 8.1 with a Microsoft Account.
I've also been following recent reports of problems when using a Microsoft Account on more than five devices -- pretty easy to do if you have a phone or two, and you're running several copies of Windows 8 or 8.1.

No improvements in Smart Search
Microsoft's privacy-busting implementation of tracked local searches -- cynically called "Smart Search" -- continues unabated in Build 9471, precisely as I described last month. Smart Search is turned on by default. To turn it off, you have to be, ahem, smart enough to realize that Microsoft labels the feature "Use Bing to search online / Get search suggestions and Web results from Bing." You also have to be smart enough to find the setting, which is right next to "Get personalized results from Bing that use my location / Personalize my search and other Microsoft experiences by using my search history, some Microsoft account info, and my specific location."
Think of Google, with hooks directly into your PC.

Libraries are being disassembled -- maybe deprecated -- but only in some places
Windows 7 introduced the concept of libraries -- collections of folders that can in many ways be treated as one. A logical extension of the old Windows Media Player libraries, some found them confusing, but the folks who stuck with it saw they could be quite powerful. Windows 7 built four libraries from scratch -- Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos -- by mashing together the user's local folder and the Public folder of the same name. So, for example, my Documents library started out with my \Woody\Documents folder and the \Public\Documents folder.
Windows 8 carried on with the Windows 7 method: The four libraries, properly constructed, appear on the left in File Explorer. But Windows 8.1 has basically dismantled the libraries. They don't appear on the left side of File Explorer, unless you put them there (hint: Look at the View tab), and they aren't built the same way. The Documents library, for example, contains the \Woody\Documents folder, and my SkyDrive Documents folder, but it doesn't have the \Public\Documents folder. Music, Pictures, and Videos only have the single, local folder.

Microsoft wants you to put everything on SkyDrive so it can charge you for the privilege. Of course if wants to limit sharing through the Public folder. It's hard for most Windows users to even find the Public folder in Build 9471. But if Microsoft is so hell-bent on extracting money for SkyDrive, why does it continue to use Windows libraries -- not folders, but libraries -- for the Metro Photos, Metro Xbox Music, and Metro Xbox Video apps?
As one commenter noted, if you show libraries in Windows 8.1 x64 Build 9471's File Explorer, they'll show up when you do a File > Save As in 64-bit apps. But the libraries won't appear when you do a File > Save As in 32-bit apps, including Firefox. That's undoubtedly a bug, but the bug-hunting season is getting mighty short.

More missing features
As I documented last month, the Windows Experience Index is gone, probably shot down in embarrassment at the low WEI score given to the Surface Pro. Facebook and Flickr have been eviscerated. I should probably say "defenestrated."
I didn't notice last month that Windows Easy Transfer is gone, too, but it is. I have no idea what Microsoft is going to do to help people migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. Undoubtedly, there's something waiting in the wings. Perhaps a journey through SkyDrive? Now there's a bit-bulging possibility.
Finally, I note with some consternation that all of the Windows 7 backup and restore programs are gone in Build 9471. They're in Windows 8, but not in Windows 8.1. We've known for quite some time that the "ghost" system image backup (the one that makes a full copy of any hard drive/volume) was going to disappear in Win 8.1. What took me by surprise is that all of the other Windows 7-era backup tools, which were in full force -- if a bit hard to find -- in Windows 8, are gone, completely, in Windows 8.1. No Windows Backup. No Backup and Restore Center.
Even System Restore Points, the old system rejuvenation fallback of an entire generation, get turned off by default in Build 9471. You won't get any Restore Points unless you turn the feature on, manually.
I guess that's progress -- but the tools won't be around when Win 8.1 users want to restore a backup created in Windows 7.
Let me end with a caveat. All of these observations pertain only to Windows 8.1 Build 9471 -- a pirate, leaked build of an as-yet-not-shipped operating system. Anything and everything could happen between now and when Windows 8.1 is released to manufacturing.
Unless, of course, Win8.1 has already RTMed. In which case, Microsoft has until Oct. 18 to come up with a patch.

(Tip o' the hat to AR.)
This story, "'Almost finished' build of Windows 8.1 still a mess," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.