Windows 8.1 ad

Have you seen Microsoft’s TV ads recently? If you haven’t, you’ve missed something quite spectacular. Their basic point is that Windows 8 isn’t as bad as you think, and you might even quite like it. Microsoft might just as well have said that the new interface has been putting a lot of people off buying a laptop, PC or tablet with Windows 8.

It’s a similar story if you head to Microsoft’s website. The headline, “Honestly, you’ll love the new Windows” smacks of desperation. It appears to be an attempt to win back the trust of users who have been scared off by Windows 8’s radical new look.

As I’ve said many times before, the biggest mistake was that every single Windows 8 advert showed only the brightly coloured tiles of the modern interface. There was no hint that the familiar Windows desktop was still there and that you could still run all your old programs and use Windows 8 just as you’ve always used Windows.

Windows RT confused things further. This version of Windows, used by Microsoft’s Surface tablet and various others, does not let you install or run your old programs. It looks identical to Windows 8 and even has a desktop and Microsoft Office, but underneath everything is an ARM processor which isn’t compatible with the x86-based processors in laptops and PCs.

However, unless you know this, it’s all too easy to walk into PC World and buy a Windows RT device thinking you’re getting full-blown Windows. This month I tried out a Lumia 2520 tablet - see the video review - which is Nokia’s alternative to the Surface. It, too, runs Windows RT, and comes with Office on the desktop.

Unlike an Android tablet or even an iPad, you can’t simply copy your photos, videos and music via a USB cable from a PC. Instead, you can sync everything via the cloud or your local Wi-Fi network (impractical with tens of gigabytes) or plug in a USB drive as you would with a laptop. Unfortunately, Nokia decided not to equip the 2520 with a full-size USB port and every microUSB converter I could lay my hands on wouldn’t work.

I remain entirely unconvinced that Windows RT can survive. RT-based tablets are too expensive, too confusing and lack the choice of apps you get with an Android tablet or an iPad.

Windows 8 is a different prospect, though. The update to 8.1 has addressed many of the problems and made it an OS that I’m happy to use every day. You can boot straight to the desktop, disable hot corners and tweak plenty of settings to make it work exactly the way you want it to.

Thanks to a faster, more stable underlying engine in Windows 8, there's really no reason to want Windows 7 instead. Microsoft may have shoved the modern UI too far down people's throats but, even if it won't admit it, it's still possible to use 8.1 just as you've always used Windows in the past.