Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 is available to download for existing Windows 8 users for free. This is the first major update for Windows 8 that was launched last year. Windows 8 was a dramatic shift from earlier versions of Windows as Microsoft catered to the changing PC landscape with the influx of touchscreens and tablets. Windows 8.1 refines the new Windows experience with Microsoft implementing some feedback it received from users and added some features of its own on top. Here’s what’s new in Windows 8.1.
Return of the Start button: Microsoft had let go of its iconic Start button, which led to significant backlash from users. Many found themselves lost when they could not spot the Start button. Windows 8.1 brings it back. However, the implementation is not the same as pre-Windows 8 environment where the Start button would pop open a menu of apps and other settings. Instead, clicking on the button would lead users to a different Start screen where they can see all the apps that have been installed on the machine without Live Tiles.
Boot to desktop: Another “by popular demand” feature, users will now be able to directly boot to desktop mode. Earlier Windows would only boot to the new user interface and users had to manually shift to the desktop mode every time.
Search: Windows 8.1 brings universal search that would search for keywords on files stored locally, those stored on SkyDrive, keyword reference in apps, online search (powered by Bing, of course), photos and even Wikipedia. This is a huge feature, one that users would end up using a lot.
Multitasking: With Windows 8, users could only open two apps in the new UI and one of them would occupy about two-thirds of the screen while the other was left as a sidebar. Windows 8.1 changes that letting users resize the apps according to their preference and even have more that two apps snapped at any given point of time provided their display is high resolution enough. Rule of thumb suggests every app would take at least 500 pixels of width.
SkyDrive: Microsoft’s cloud service, SkyDrive, was already integrated with Windows 8 and it gets even more tightly knit in Windows 8.1. Now all files will be automatically backed up on SkyDrive, which will also sync the user’s system settings, so whenever the user logs in from a different PC, those settings are already implemented.
Windows Store: Microsoft is also talking about easier discoverability of apps from the Windows Store. Installed apps will also download automatically and the limits on re-installs have been removed.
Settings: One of my biggest pet peeves with Windows 8 was the fragmented settings menu. One could get only some settings in the Modern UI and for others one had to go to the desktop mode. Windows 8.1 brings all possible settings to a single place in the Modern UI mode.
Other improvements: There are a lot of other improvements like Internet Explorer 11, which now allows unlimited tabs and syncs bookmarks across devices. There are improvements made to the keyboard and some new pre-installed Microsoft apps. The lock screen can work as a personal photo frame of sorts. One can even have animated background on the Start screen and there are more size options for Tiles that can be resized more easily when not using a mouse.
Overall, Windows 8.1 looks like what Windows 8 should have been. It is great to see that Microsoft is hearing what its users are saying and more importantly, implementing those suggestions. It is also assuring that the regular three year wait between updates has gone and we can look forward to regular annual updates.
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