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Solving the mystery of Windows 8.1's missing features

By J. Peter Bruzzese

Have you started working with Windows 8.1 yet? I've had it installed for months. Aside from a little Start tile (I won't call it a button) and my Search working poorly compared to Windows 8, I haven't noticed much of a difference. But apparently a bunch of little things are missing. Some I put in the "who cares?" category. Others may irk users who are accustomed to the OS functioning a certain way.

Case in point: Windows Easy Transfer. It's probably not a tool you use every day, but it's a very handy way to copy files and settings from one Windows computer to another. With Windows 8.1, it works differently. Now, it only transfers files, not settings, and only those from Windows 8.0, Windows RT, and Windows 7 -- not from pre-7 editions of Windows or other Windows 8.1 computers. When I asked why the functionality was reduced, Microsoft told me, "WET is being deprecated now that many settings roam automatically and you can share data using SkyDrive."

[ J. Peter Bruzzese says there's no free lunch, but there could be a "free" Windows [1]. | 10 excellent new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 [2] | For quick, smart takes on the news you'll be talking about, check out InfoWorld TechBrief [3] -- subscribe today. ]

I don't consider this to be a huge problem, but it made me curious about what other little details are missing or changed.

For starters, the Windows Experience Index (WEI) is MIA. This presented a score determined by the System Assessment Tool, which looked at the processor, memory, graphics, gaming graphics, and hard disk subsystems and rated each, then used the lowest number from that set as the WEI value. I never liked that because it's not reflective of the user experience. Many geeks like me would tweak WEI's XML file to override the score, so you could show people a really high tally on your PC to impress them -- neglecting to mention that you hacked the number, of course. This was a great game at geek parties: Who has the higher WEI?

Well, it's gone -- mostly. The System Assessment Tool is still running, and you can see your score by opening the <date time> Format.Assessment (Initial/Recent).WinSAT.xmlfile at C:\Windows\Performance\WinSAT\DataStore. But the GUI presentation has disappeared in Windows 8.1.

Despite what you may have read [4], libraries aren't missing in Windows 8.1. But they are hidden, so most users will think they're missing. Part of the reason for the change: Microsoft is trying to get you to save your stuff to SkyDrive, not to your local Pictures and Documents libraries. If you want to see your libraries in File Explorer, go to the View ribbon, click the Navigation pane, and select Show Libraries.

Another elusive feature in Windows 8.1 is the set of Windows 7 Backup and System Image Recovery tools. These were still available in Windows 8, along with the new File History tool. But in Windows 8.1, you may have a hard time finding those recovery tools. Rest assured, however, there are still tools for restore points, recycling the PC, refreshing the PC, and troubleshooting the system should it fail to boot. To get to them, open the File History tool and look in the lower-left corner for the System Image Backup option.

Hub apps are indeed gone in Windows 8.1. These apps in Windows 8 were designed to play nice with others, such as the Messaging app that worked with both Live Messenger and Facebook. Messaging is gone because Microsoft wants you to use Skype instead, and it now works with Facebook.

Other apps have lost features but still exist. One is the Photos app, which no longer lets you alter photos from Facebook, Flickr, and SkyDrive. Maybe that makes sense because once you publish an image, you don't usually want to tweak it. Instead, you'd tweak first, and the new Photos app has new editing tools to play with.

The Calendar app has also been tweaked, apparently shedding Google sync support in the process. This may not matter for long, given the rumor that the Calendar and Mail apps will be replaced by the Outlook app, which is now available on Windows 8.1 RT tablets.

It's nice to see the Windows OS evolve, even if clear reasons aren't presented for some changes. Still, I don't think any of these items are deal-breakers -- I doubt anyone is going to avoid Windows 8.1 because they cannot easily view their WEI score.
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