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What’s New in Windows 8.1 for XP Users

If you’re an experienced Windows XP user and you’re looking at Windows 8.1, one of two things happened: Either your trusty old XP machine died and you had to get Win8.1 with a new PC, or a friend or family member conned you into looking into Win8.1 to provide tech support.

If you’re thinking of making the jump from XP to Win8.1, you have two big hurdles:

  • Learning the tiled Metro side of the force

  • Making the transition from XP to Windows 7 because the Win8.1 old-fashioned desktop works a lot like Windows 7

That said, if you didn’t plunge into the Windows 7 or Vista madness, and instead sat back and waited for something better to come along, many improvements indeed await in Windows 8.1.

Improved performance with Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 (and Windows 7 before it) actually places fewer demands on your PC’s hardware. As long as you have a fairly powerful video card, and 1GB or more of main memory, moving from XP to Win8.1 will make your PC run faster.

If you don’t have a powerful video card, and you’re running a desktop system, you can get one for less than $100, and extra memory costs a pittance. You laptop users aren’t so lucky because laptop video’s usually soldered in.

Better video with Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 doesn’t sport the Aero interface made popular in Vista and Win7, but some of the Aero improvements persist.

Hover your mouse in the lower-right corner of the old-fashioned desktop, and you see outlines of all open windows. That used to be called Aero Peek, before Microsoft decided to ban the term Aero, but it still works. The Aero Snap feature lets you drag a window to an edge of the screen and have it automatically resize to half-screen size — a boon to anyone with a wide screen.

Windows 8.1’s desktop shows you thumbnails of running programs when you hover your mouse over a program on the taskbar.

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Video efficiency is also substantially improved: If you have a video that drips and drops in XP, the same video running on the same hardware may go straight through in Windows 8.1.

Other improvements in Windows 8.1

The old Windows XP Media Center Edition was billed — and sold — as a separate operating system, almost exclusively available on new PCs. That always struck me as odd because Media Center is an application that runs on top of Windows just like, oh, Internet Explorer or Windows Media Player.

In Windows 8.1, Media Center is an extra-cost add-in to Windows 8.1 Pro only. You can buy it with the Add Features to Windows 8.1 program, which is in the Control Panel’s System and Security category.

Note that, if you’re starting with the standard version of Windows 8.1, you have to pay for Windows 8.1 Pro, and then pay more for the Media Center upgrade. Media Center comes along free if you pay for an upgrade from XP, Vista, or Win7 to Windows 8.1 Pro.

Many other features — less sexy but every bit as useful — put Windows 8.1 head and shoulders above XP. The standout features include

  • The taskbar: Many XP users swear by the old Quick Launch toolbar, but the taskbar, once you get to know it, runs rings around its predecessor.

  • A backup worthy of the name: Backup was a cruel joke in Windows XP. Windows 7 did it better, but Windows 8.1 makes backup truly easy, particularly with File History, although you no longer have an option to make a “ghost” full volume backup of a hard drive.

  • A less-infested notification area: XP let any program and its brother put an icon in the notification area, near the system clock. Windows 8.1 severely limits the number of icons that appear and gives you a spot to click if you really want to see them all.

  • Second monitor support: Although some video card manufacturers managed to jury-rig multiple monitor support into the Windows XP drivers, Windows 8.1 makes using multiple monitors one-click easy.

  • Homegroups: Windows 8.1, like Windows 7, lets you put together all the PCs in a trusted environment and share among them quite easily.

  • Easy wireless networking: All sorts of traps and gotchas live in the Windows XP wireless programs. Windows 8.1 does it much, much better.

  • Search: In Windows XP, searching for anything other than a filename involved an enormous kludge of an add-on that sucked up computer cycles and overwhelmed your machine. In Windows 8.1, search is baked in.

Although Windows 8.1 isn’t the XP of your dreams, it’s remarkably easy to use and has all sorts of compelling new features.

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