Windows 8.1 Preview – Part II

I’ve now installed the Windows 8.1 Preview on my Desktop PC; I went with the safe and boring option 2.

With the caveat that this is not the final version of Windows 8.1, I’ve noticed some good things and bad things about the Preview.

The good things are the tidying up and the further evolution of the Modern UI. So, for example, more of the traditional Desktop’s Control Panel functions are now exposed via the Modern UI, and they are grouped more logically. The sops thrown by Microsoft to the “Bring back the Start Button and the Desktop” crowd may satisfy them, but are of no interest to me – I never missed the Start Button in the first place.

What does bother me are two things:

  1. The Mail development team still hasn’t got a clue on how to use the Windows 8 printing system.
  2. There are worrying signs that Microsoft may be deprecating the Libraries feature.

With regard to (1), that’s been there since the very start of Windows 8. You can’t just print the current page, or a selection of pages from the Mail App. Something that’s easily done with the traditional Windows Print dialog, but which is totally impossible with this App. It is also the same with the IE10 App in Windows 8 (but that has been fixed for IE11 in Windows 8.1). They drop the “Pages” setting from the Modern UI Print screen. This is with a newer build (17.3.9431.0) of Mail from the one in Windows 8 (build 17.0.1119.516). Could someone please, please tell the development team how to use the printing system, for heaven’s sake?

But the more worrying thing for me is that, starting with Windows 8.1, Microsoft seems to be deprecating the Libraries feature, which was first introduced in Windows 7.

Libraries are the way to aggregate collections of data (e.g. documents, photos, music and videos) from disparate data sources (e.g. on the local PC, out in the network, or even in the cloud). I use them to give seamless access to photos and music that reside both locally and on our Windows Home Server, which serves media to our PCs and to other connected devices that support the DLNA standards.

In Windows 8.1, the emphasis has been put on SkyDrive as the primary storage location. Take a look at the traditional Desktop Windows Explorer in Windows 8.1. Here’s what you see when you first open it up:

Win81 12

Look at the Navigation Pane on the left. Note the prominence of SkyDrive, and the fact that what was called “Computer” in Windows 7 and 8 is now called “This PC”. Notice anything else? Yup – there’s no entries for the Libraries in the Navigation Pane. There is an option in the Explorer to turn them on, but it is off by default. Here’s what I wanted to see:

Win81 13

The Libraries feature is still there and working in Windows 8.1 – it’s just that not all Microsoft’s Modern UI Apps bother with it.

For example, the SkyDrive App is clearly the first iteration of what is likely to become the Modern UI equivalent of the Windows Explorer, and its top-level entry points for accessing storage are “SkyDrive” and “This PC”; there are no “Libraries”or “Network” entries here:

Win81 02a

Choose “This PC”, and you are presented only with the local storage locations; again, no Libraries or Network entries.

Win81 03a

There is that “Devices and drives” item at the bottom of the list; click (or touch) that, and you see a list of the local drives on the PC, and the media servers present on the local network:

Win81 10a

So, “Libraries” are not exposed at all via this Modern UI Explorer… And we are still not out of the woods, because if I click on the “Home Server (degas)” item, this is what I see:

Win81 11a

Sigh. And yes, I’ve tried later, and there’s still no result. The Modern UI Explorer only works with SkyDrive and local storage on your PC – it ignores Libraries and Network Attached Storage – including Microsoft’s own Windows Home Server.

It’s the same with the Photos App, except that it seems to be even more limited. It will only ever display photos held on the local PC in the C:\Users\Username\Pictures folder.

Whereas the current Windows 8 version of the Photos App will display photos held in Picture Libraries, SkyDrive, Flickr and Facebook, the 8.1 version of Photos App will only display photos and folders held in the C:\Users\Username\Pictures folder. Here, for example, is what I have in my Pictures Library in Windows 8.1:

Win81 14 

I have three locations defined for the Pictures Library:

  • C:\Users\Geoff\Pictures (with two folders: Camera Roll and Test Folder)
  • \\Degas\Pictures (with several hundred top-level folders and 50,000+ photos)
  • C:\Users\Geoff\SkyDrive (with 64 folders)

If I open up the 8.1 Photos App, all I see are the two lonely folders in C:\Users\Geoff\Pictures:

Win81 19

So the Photos App is simply looking in the “This PC” hierarchy, and just picking up the local Pictures folder:

Win81 18

This is useless. What is bizarre is that the live Tile for the Photos App is showing random photos from the Pictures Library, whilst the Photos App itself cannot:

Win81 20

The limitations of the Photos App have been raised by Barb Bowman on the Windows 8.1 Preview forum. Quote:

The Photos App has changed:

1. No longer includes the ability to show images from Facebook, Flickr, SkyDrive

2. No longer allows images from other computers or the network –  am guessing that because there is now support for SkyDrive on RT and MS is heavily emphasizing that as the preferred storage location (when you upgrade, one of the questions asked before you even get to the desktop is if you want to use SkyDrive as your default storage area – and that seems to be the default – and MS feels the network, NAS, Homegroup, and other computers are deprecated.

This got a response from Carmen Zlateff, a Principal Lead Program Manager on the Photos App team, who said in respect of point 1:

Thanks for the feedback, everybody.  In Windows 8, we wanted to provide a way for folks to view their photos on other services knowing there would be few (if any) apps in the store at launch that would do so.  Now there are many apps in the store that offer ways to view photos on other services and soon there will even be a Facebook app from Facebook.  We’re confident Facebook will offer great ways to view and engage socially with photos on Facebook.  We welcome Flickr to do the same.  In addition, the People app still offers the ability to socially engage with your friends and even your own photos.

Needless to say, this reply was treated with the contempt it deserves. Whether it will result in any change on Microsoft’s part, we shall see. I’m not holding my breath. And I fear that Microsoft is going down the path that there is only Cloud storage (i.e. SkyDrive) or local storage (i.e. This PC).

To summarise:

  • I hold all my media on a Windows Home Server, and expect to be able to access it from devices (including DLNA devices) on my home network.
  • I have too much data for an affordable use of SkyDrive, and besides, internet access is like a piece of wet string in my location.
  • This is a massive jump backwards.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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9 Responses to Windows 8.1 Preview – Part II

  1. Pingback: Windows 8.1 Photo App | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  2. I’m living in sparsely populated Sweden where many people still don’t have access to fibre-optic broadband or, where it is available in the street, it is prohibitively expensive to connect to from the apartment or house. So mostly we have coax broadband where the maximum upstream speed in 1mb even when we enjoy 25mb or more downstream speeds. So how the f.. can we make use of Skydrive in any meaningful way when we have this kind of upstream speed? Furthermore I have photos and videos of over 150GB’s on my various hard drives at home so I’m into libraries in a big way and for the next few years I’d guess. The assumption MS seems to be making is that we consumers (the little people) all enjoy terrific upstream and downstream broadband speeds and of course this is a long way from the truth. Skydrive prominence is coming far to early for us.

  3. Andrew Macaulay says:

    Need to get Microsoft to listen about Libraries. If anything the new UI and new explorer to make libraries even more discoverable and usable – rather than hiding them away. Even third party explorer replacements in the store allow them to use libraries.

  4. Toby says:

    I created a second partition on the main hard drive to hold my data and made it the default location for docs, pics, music, etc. The photos app is so backwards that it can’t access any of my pictures just because they are on a partition other than C, even though they are on a local drive that is the same physical drive as windows. I’m not paying to upgrade Skydrive storage and why would I want to clog up my C drive with photos which I would lose if I had to reinstall Windows from scratch. Putting photos on C would also increase the size for backup images of the C drive. I’m more likely to uninstall or unpin all Modern UI apps and change the settings to boot to the desktop and install a third party app to make start work the way it used to rather than being forced to pay for an upgrade of Skydrive.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      I’ve now got the final release of Windows 8.1 installed on all my systems, and, like you, I’m finding that Microsoft’s Photos App can’t access pictures held on an SD card – even though it is defined in a Library location. Other Apps have no problem about accessing the same folders. Frankly, the Photos App is a disaster zone.

  5. Toby says:

    Sorry to double post, but I’ve found almost as much frustration with the Music app. According to Windows Media Player, I have 2,685 songs, 266 artists, and 464 albums in my collection. According the the Music App, I have 2,126 songs, 5 artists, and 7 albums in my collection. Most of the songs that it found are categorized as being from an unknown artist and an unknown album.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Make sure that the Music App has the “Automatically retrieve Album art and metadata from the internet” preference switched off. I think that this is why you are seeing incorrect results. Mind you, if it was switched on, then it has probably also screwed up your carefully edited metadata as well…

      • Toby says:

        Thanks. I used MusicBrainz Picard to retag all my music and that seemed to work. I will have to turn off “Automatically retrieve Album art and metadata from the internet” before it screws it up again. I also found a solution that seemed to fix my photo app not seeing the D partition of my hard drive. I already had the default Windows 8 pictures pointing to the pictures folder on my D drive. I had to right-click pictures on the D drive and go to the security tab, disable inheritance, make my account on Windows 8.1 the owner, give it full control, add System to the group or usernames, give it full control, and apply the permissions to all the subfolders by checking “Replace all child object permissions with inheritable permissions from this object” and clicking apply. I have no idea if this would work for an SD card and have no idea if setting permissions for a folder in the SD card like this would mess things up when you put it back in your camera.

        • Geoff Coupe says:

          As a result of messing with the display driver on my Tablet, I bricked it, and had to restore the OS files from an earlier restore point. Then I found that the Photos App was able to deal with my pictures stored in the Library location on my SD card… Go figure…

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