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.



How to add to the Windows 8 'Send To' context menu

SuperUser reader Mondain wants to add items to his “Send To” context menu, but the technique that he used for Windows 7 doesn’t work for him in Windows 8.
I want to add an application shortcut to my Send To context menu in Windows 8; I tried the solution for Windows 7 here: How to add an item to my “Send To” context menu but it doesn’t work.
How can we do it and how does it differ from adding items in previous versions of Windows?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor Ofiris shares a “Send To” menu tip:
WinKey + R
Add your shortcut there.
Note: it might be more correct to run: shell:sendto
Ofiris’s tip covers two bases: first it shows us where the actual location of the “Send To” shortcuts are in Windows 8, but it also covers the shell:sendto command. Ofiris’s assement that it is more correct to run shell:sendto is spot on as, regardless of the version of Windows you are running, it will direct you to the appropriate folder–it’s the same technique we recommend for adding “Send To” shortcuts in Windows 7.\



A ‘no-reformat reinstall’ for Windows 8 (Fred Langa-Windows Secrets)

Fred Langa
Win8′s Refresh your PC without affecting your files feature lets you rebuild your operating system in minutes.

A refresh returns Windows 8 to like-new condition while leaving users’ accounts, data, passwords, and personal files intact. But there are a few limitations to consider.
As I noted in the July 11 Top Story, “Understanding Windows 8′s File History,” Windows 8′s backup/restore mechanisms are a significant break from the past.
For example, File History doesn’t use traditional, periodic backups; instead, it makes nearly continuous backups of all new and altered files in the Windows Library. File History offers an unprecedented level of backup protection — if used properly.

Along with File History, Win8′s backup/restore system has two new components: Refresh your PC without affecting your files (“Refresh” for short) and Remove everything and reinstall Windows (“Remove”).
Refresh is a nondestructive reinstall that restores Win8′s core system files to factory-fresh condition. It can strip away deleterious changes caused by application installations, bad settings, data corruption, and so on.
Refresh doesn’t alter your user accounts, passwords, or data (including Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos), and it won’t remove or alter some installed programs. (More on what’s kept and lost in a moment.)

Remove, on the other hand, wipes out all user accounts, data, passwords, and installed programs — leaving you with a scratch Win8 installation that’s ready to be set up and customized.
Win8 is the first Windows to offer these two options built in. Because they’re part of the operating system, they work fast — much faster than the manual refresh/reinstall options available for previous Windows versions. A refresh, for example, requires almost no user input and runs to completion in as little as 20 minutes.
Win8 also lets you make your own custom recovery images — you can “refresh” to the specific, preconfigured setup of your choice.
In the rest of this article, I’ll walk you through a basic refresh so you can see how it works and know your options. In future installments, I’ll cover Remove, plus how to create and use custom recovery images. And I’ll explore the rest of what’s new and different about Win8′s backup/recovery systems.

Doing a refresh — start to finish

As mentioned, a refresh is a kind of nondestructive reinstall that puts your Windows system files back into factory-fresh condition but doesn’t alter your user accounts, data, or passwords. Moreover, some — if not all — installed programs are left intact.
Nondestructive reinstalls aren’t new to Windows. I explained the process for Vista and Windows 7 in the July 14, 2011, Top Story, “Win7′s no-reformat, nondestructive reinstall.” Windows XP users should check out the 2006 InformationWeek article, “XP’s no-reformat, nondestructive total-rebuild option.”
Prior to Win8, a nondestructive reinstall was a relatively painstaking, laborious, manual process. As already noted, Win8′s Refresh is push-button simple, highly automated, and fast.
To find Refresh, start at Win8′s General Settings page. Click the Settings charm (the gear icon), select Change PC settings, and then click the General heading. Scroll down to the Refresh your PC without affecting your files heading (circled in yellow in Figure 1).


Figure 1. Win8's Refresh your PC without affecting your files — aka Refresh — tool
Keep in mind, Refresh is rebuilding the entire Windows 8 core — so when you click the Get started button (see Figure 1), the process begins with a quick explanation of what’s in store, as shown in Figure 2.

Refresh warning

Figure 2. So there are no surprises, Win8 tells you just what a basic refresh will do.
The Microsoft Win8 support page, “How to restore, refresh, or reset your PC,” explains in a bit more detail what Refresh’s basic settings will keep and discard (I’ve added emphasis to key phrases):
  • “The apps that came with your PC or you installed from Windows Store will be reinstalled, but any apps you installed from other websites and DVDs will be removed. Windows puts a list of the removed apps on your desktop after refreshing your PC.”
No doubt about it, temporarily losing your third-party apps is a hassle. But Microsoft reasons that most system troubles arise from third-party apps — and removing them will help get Windows going again. With Windows restored, you can then reinstall third-party apps, one by one, and see whether one is causing trouble.
If you’d rather retain your third-party apps, you can. Refresh can use a recovery image to rebuild a Win8 system to a specific configuration — one that includes third-party apps.
Some PCs come with a manufacturer’s recovery image installed on the hard drive or on DVD. Refresh can use that image to restore both the OS and the manufacturer’s software and drivers.
Better yet, Refresh can use custom system images created with recimg.exe, a command-line tool unique to Win8 (see MS Support article 2748351 for more info). If the custom image you created included third-party apps, Win8 will restore those apps as part of the refresh process.
I’ll cover recimg.exe and custom system images more fully in an upcoming article. For now, let’s complete our walk-through.
When you set Refresh in motion, it looks for known-good copies of system files it needs to restore. The files might be in a system image, on the hard drive, or on Win8-installation media such as a setup DVD, flash drive, .iso file, etc.
If Refresh can’t find all files it needs, it’ll pause and ask you to provide a source for the files (see Figure 3).

Additional files

Figure 3. If Refresh can't find needed system files, it'll ask for help.
Once Refresh has everything it requires, it will prompt you to start the actual refresh process, as shown in Figure 4.

Begin refresh

Figure 4. The actual start of the refresh process
Click the Refresh button, and your system will churn a bit, think for a moment, and then run the refresh process in earnest — including several reboots along the way.
Note: The refresh reboots are automatic — no user input is required. If you’re using a Win8 setup DVD (or other bootable medium) to provide necessary source files, Refresh’s reboots might ask you to “Press any key to boot from CD or DVD.” Ignore any such prompt. During a refresh, Win8 should boot only from the C: drive.
As the Refresh proceeds, Windows will display a variety of minimalist information screens along the way. Figures 5 and 6 show two examples.

Refresh underway

Figure 5. This minimalist progress screen appears early in the refresh process.

Refresh status

Figure 6. As the process nears completion, you'll see a more colorful but even less informative screen.
Start to finish, it took about 20 minutes to refresh my simple 64-bit, 8GB test system. Ultimately, the time required for a refresh depends on all the normal system variables: raw system speed, amount of installed RAM, hard-drive and other storage-device speed, etc.
Shortly after Refresh completes, Win8 runs Windows Update to bring the newly installed system files up to date. It might take the OS days to install all updates. Fortunately, it runs in the background, so you can start using your newly refreshed system immediately.
If you’d rather get updating over with as soon as possible, you can run Windows Update manually (Control Panel/System and Security/Windows Update). Click Check for updates to get all patches more or less at once.

What’s different after a basic refresh

Most of Refresh’s changes are invisible — the replacement of Win8′s system files with known-good copies.
But some alterations are immediately noticeable. For example, unless you used a custom system image, your Start screen will no longer show tiles for nonnative Win8 apps.
Figure 7 shows the Start screen of my test system prior to running a basic refresh (no custom image). Note the leftmost group. It includes: native Win8 apps (Internet Explorer, Desktop, and Store), a third-party Chess app from the Win8 Store, a couple of custom tiles (shutdown and lock), and third-party apps from non-Microsoft sites (Secunia PSI and CCleaner).

Pre-refresh Start screen

Figure 7. Before refresh: My Start screen tiles included a mix of custom tiles and tiles for both native Win8 apps and third-party software.
Figure 8 shows the same system’s Start screen immediately after running Refresh. The tiles for all custom and third-party apps have been removed, leaving only those for native Win8 apps and the Chess app from the Win8 Store.

Post-refresh Start screen

Figure 8. After refresh: The refresh process kept only native Win8 apps and an app from the Win8 Store.
After a refresh, the system places a file — Removed Apps.html — on the Win8 Desktop; it contains a list of all software the refresh removed from your system. As Figure 9 shows, the list includes the removed software’s name, publisher, and version number. In some cases, the app’s name provides a direct link to the publisher’s site, making it easier to download and reinstall a fresh copy of the missing app.

Removed-apps list

Figure 9. The Removed Apps.html file provides specific information on apps removed by a refresh.
Here’s a surprise: Refresh doesn’t delete the apps it removed; they’re taken out of service and stored in a protected folder — Windows.old — that’s typically located on the C: drive (see Figure 10).

Disabled-apps folder

Figure 10. Removed apps are stored in a Windows.old folder.
This is an important safety feature. If you discover that you need something from your pre-refresh software setup — a configuration file, forgotten template, specific .dll, or whatever — it’s probably still there in Windows.old.
The Windows.old folder will be quite large — it contains almost your entire pre-refresh setup! On my test system, the folder held almost 12GB of files. So once you’re sure you don’t need anything inside Windows.old, you’ll probably want to delete it.
Before highlighting Windows.old and pressing the Delete key, note that it’s a protected folder — you have to remove it in a roundabout way. Use Win8′s Disk Cleanup applet and select the Clean up system files option. For more information on cleaning up Win8 system files, see the Aug. 8 LangaList Plus column, “Easy ways to gain more hard-drive space.”
Once the bulky Windows.old folder is gone, your newly refreshed Win8 system should be smaller, leaner, and cleaner than before. In fact, it should be running very nearly like new!



How To Make Windows 8.1 Look Like Windows 7

Posted August 9, 2013 – 8:13 pm in: Windows 8 Guides

Not everyone loves the default look of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. There are millions of Windows users who have been forced (or, at least they think so) to use the latest version of Windows operating system and its modern features such as Start screen and apps.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture

The best thing about Windows is that you can configure and customize it to your liking. If you are a Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 user and don’t like the default look of Windows, you can easily transform your Windows 8/8.1 into Windows 7 in a few minutes. You will need to download some free tools and change some settings to get back Windows 7 look and feel in Windows 8/8.1.

Just follow the below mentioned instructions to make your Windows 8/8.1 look and feel like Windows 7.

NOTE: We advise you create a system restore point so that you can quickly revert to original Windows 8/8.1 look.

Disable Start screen:
Start screen is the first thing that you see when you log-in to your account. While Windows 8.1 users can configure Windows boot directly to desktop, you might just want to completely disable it and replace it with a Start menu.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture11

In order to disable the Start screen, and other Modern UI features, you need to use a free tool named Metro Killer. The beauty of this tool is that it completely disables the Start screen and also helps you disable all hot corners. However, the catch is that it will enable all Metro features again during the next restart.

Disable Charms bar and hot corners:
Again, you can use the excellent Metro Killer software to disable Charms bar. Since Metro Killer (use the above mentioned link to download it) turns on all charms again after a restart, you can use Skip Metro Suite program to permanently disable one or more hot corners in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture5

Install a Start menu:
Even though Microsoft has added the Start button back in Windows 8.1, it doesn’t help you open the Start menu. So you need to either install Classic Shell, ViStart, IObit Start8 or any other program (there are plenty of them) to enable the Start menu in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture2

Once installed, configure it to show Start menu when you press the Windows logo key and also when you click on the Start button.

Disable lock screen:
Disabling the lock screen is fairly simple and you don’t need to download any tool for that. You can follow our how to disable the lock screen in Windows 8 guide to turn off the feature in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture7

Enable Aero:
There are a couple of tools out there to enable Aero glass transparency in Windows 8. You can either use WinAero Aero Glass Enabler or use Aero Glass tool. While WinAero Aero Glass Enabler is easy to use, installing Aero Glass isn’t very straight-forward but it enables native Windows 7 Aero with blur effect. You can go through the instructions provided on the developer’s page to see detailed instructions to install Aero Glass.
Please note, that separate downloads are available for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Be sure to download the right one.

Install Windows 7 visual style:
Now that you have enabled Aero, you might like to install a Windows 7-style Aero visual style as well. There are a couple of good Windows 7-style visual styles available for Windows 8.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture12

We recommend you visit this page of DeviantArt website to Aero8 (Windows 7 visual style for designed for Windows 8). As you may know, just like its predecessors, Windows 8 doesn’t support installing third-party visual styles. In order install downloaded visual style, you need to first install UxStyle Core software and then follow our how to install third-party visual styles in Windows 8/8.1 guide.

Change default programs:
By default, Windows 8 opens your photos with the Modern Photos apps, music files in Music app and your video files in Video app. As these default programs aren’t as powerful as the desktop programs, we suggest you set your favorite desktop software to open audio, video and photos. Follow the given below instructions to set a desktop program as your default program to open pictures, audio and video files.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture4

Right-click on a picture file, click Open with, click Choose default program and then click Windows Photo Viewer to set it as the default one. Likewise, right-click on an audio file, select Open with, select Choose default program and select Windows Media Player or any other installed third-party media player.
Next, right-click on a video file, click Open with, click Choose default program and select your favorite media player.

Disable Explorer Ribbon:
Microsoft has introduced Office-style ribbon in Windows 8’s explorer. It lets you quickly access various explorer features without having to open Folder Options. If you want to restore the old style explorer, simply download and run Ribbon Disabler tool to get Windows 7-style file explorer in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture3

Windows 7 wallpaper:
Finally, if you are really serious about getting Windows 7 look in Windows 8 or 8.1, you will have to download the original Windows 7 desktop background as well. You can visit this page to download the wallpaper.

Make Windows 8 look like Windows 7 Picture6

Right-click on the wallpaper and then click Set as desktop background to apply it as your desktop wallpaper.