Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Update: What Windows 8 should have been from the start

Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Update: What Windows 8 should have been from the start

Summary: Microsoft is starting its rollout of Windows 8.1 Update on April 2. The new features and changes are starting to make this an operating system I actually want to use.

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Microsoft officials confirmed on April 2 what those of us who keep tabs on Windows operating-system leaks have known for a while: The Windows 8.1 Update, which the company is beginning to roll out starting today, makes Windows 8 a lot more usable for those of us who rely on mice and keyboards.

win81updatetaskbar

On April 2, during the first day of the company's Build 2014 show, officials showed off the latest update for Windows 8.1, known officially as "Windows 8.1 Update." As leaks and tipsters have made plain in recent months, the 8.1 Update adds new capabilities, such as easier access to the taskbar with pinnable apps; inclusion of new, context-sensitive menus by right clicking on apps; and the ability to more easily close and navigate across Desktop and Metro-Style apps.

Regardless of any rumors you may have read, the Metro Start Screen isn't going away. On PCs and other devices that are more likely to be used with keyboards and mice, Windows 8.1 Update will boot to the Desktop screen, rather than the Metro/tiled screen. On touch tablets, the Metro/tiled screen will still be the default boot-up screen, as it is currently with Windows 8.1. The bottom line: OEMs will be able to decide which "power profiles" make sense for which devices (slates, desktops, workstations, mobile devices) with the Windows 8.1 Update, but users will be able to override most of these new default settings.

As sources have told us previously, and as Microsoft officials are now confirming, Microsoft plans to make the Windows 8.1 Update bits available to MSDN/TechNet subscribers today, April 2. The rest of the Windows 8.1 user base will get the Update on April 8 via Windows Update.

Also, as sources indicated previously, Microsoft has managed to compress Windows 8.1 Update and improve its memory-management so that it will work better on cheaper, smaller devices. Those of us with devices already running Windows 8/8.1 won't get this smaller OS; it's for new devices only.

I've been using the final Windows 8.1 Update bits (the RTM bits provided to me by Microsoft) for the past week or so on my new Acer Aspire S7 laptop. While I still feel as though Microsoft offers too many different ways of performing the same task in Windows 8/8.1, I'm more at home with the Update installed. My usual workflow feels less interrupted by Windows 8 than it did without the Update. With the 8.1 Update installed, Windows 8 feels more familiar, sensible and useful to me. Moving between Metro and Desktop is finally starting to feel less jarring.

You say recanting; they say refining

Microsoft officials maintain they aren't simply renouncing the company's original directions because of less-than-stellar public acceptance of the Windows 8 OS. The Windows team is continuing to listen to customer feedback and are "steadily refining the set of features in both first-party apps and the operating system itself," in the words of Director of Communications Chris Flores.

Microsoft execs say that on touch-enabled devices, Windows 8 has the highest customer-satisfaction scores than any version of Windows ever. So why make the kinds of changes that Windows 8.1 and then the Windows 8.1 Update are delivering?

There are a lot of customers out there with a lot of muscle memory as to how they've learned to interact with Windows, execs say. Microsoft is trying to strike a balance between big/bold and familiar without alienating the millions of users who rely heavily on mice and keyboards. Microsoft's official stance is the company needed to make sure touch was in a good place" before shoring up the OS for mice and keyboards.

It's tough to make pizza for more than a billion, Microsoft officials are fond of saying. I'm just glad with Windows 8 Update I am finally getting my slice with pineapple but no ham.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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78 comments
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  • and free!

    too bad it is only 9 inch or less, but that is a step that wouldn't have happened just a year ago. maybe they will see the uptake and go free on every tablet and maybe even sub 1K pcs.
    neonspark
    • A company needs to make money

      I can't fault them for easing into the free thing slowly. They spend a fortune on Windows' development. Some day app purchases and in-app ads from the store will amortize the cost, and that might be able to justify free (as what happened on the Mac side.)

      My guess is that on nine inch devices, that day is already at hand. But for the rest? They need to cover their costs.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • All my XP boxes are/will be ported to Mint

        MS can keep Win8.1. XP floundering support is bad news for Win 8.1. Further erosion of MS market share is guaranteed.

        Companies don't invest money on MS experiments and poor decisions. MS has played with the World economy at will with them, examples are: Vista, Win8, Win Mobile ...6,7,8, Win RT, leaving its users high and dry at the end of each botched cycle.

        Don't know about others, though I wont be exposed to their poor foresight going forward.
        Uralbas
        • Yes, Linux must be the world's solution

          Good luck with Mint. Let me know how you go with all those applications you need for work, like Office. Play games after hours? The Steam Linux library is growing enormously - it must have about 5% of Steam's PC library now. Of course, none of those are A-list games, but Linux users seem happy with 8-bit graphics.

          Need a particular program for compatibility with a client? Sorry, while Linux has all sorts of stuff compatibility with the rest of the world continues to be a problem.

          How about when something breaks. Are you full nerd now? You will be once you've gone Mint.

          Uralbas, Mint MAY be your solution. It definitely isn't the right solution for the huge majority of Windows users who will eventually try, learn to live with, and enjoy Windows 8. I've used it for over a year, and it is much faster, more capable and more stable than any Windows before it. I use the Start screen occasionally, but it is very easy to avoid even when booting and doesn't affect my daily compute.

          So many people love whining about Microsoft and Windows 8 - it seems to be an international pastime, but it does get very sameish after a while. Consider exactly what you are complaining about, and compare it to your proposed solution. One of them is actually user-friendly - and it ain't Mint.

          So try Windows 8, and if you really want to live in the past (like me) install one of the myriad start menu replacements. Stop whining about what is (copying myriad other Window Whiners is passe), and make it what can be.
          Postulator
    • 9 inch will become favorite

      I hope many manufacturer start building 9 inch tablet.
      I think 8 or 9 is enough for many people.
      And give hdmi connector for working with bigger monitor at office
      Utomo Prawiro
  • The Start Menu...

    Windows 8 apps on the desktop look nice, and TBH, it looks better than I thought Microsoft was going to release, but I'm also sad to see the return of the ancient menu/submenu start menu. The Live Tiles on the start menu look nice, but it looks awful with that menu/submenu, and especially goofy looking Vista-era icons next to the tiles. It's like they just took 10 steps foreword, and now 20 back.

    It's not 1995 anymore, can't we let some of these ancient systems die? Windows would be so much more mother and slimmer if some of this code could be nuked forever.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Why kill off what works?

      Unless you're referring to the styling and not the functionality.
      ye
      • Both - Kind of...

        Styling, yes. I'd love to see those Vista era icons either removed all together, or updated to match the flat look of Windows 8. Functionality, yes, as well. Aside from catering to new user habits, some of this code is so ancient, that it needs revamped or removed all together.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
        • Code or features?

          I assume you're already using Update 1? I'll have to wait until next week to see what you're referring to.
          ye
        • Your post seem contradictory.

          First you say: "especially goofy looking Vista-era icons next to the tiles...can't we let some of these ancient systems die?"
          Then you say: "or updated to match the flat look of Windows 8."

          But yet, in the 70's, 80's and part way through the 90's, all we had was "Flat look" everything.
          So are you saying the recycled 80's flat look of Win 8 is the new advanced look? I am confused.
          anothercanuck
          • I think you take some liberties

            You go way out of the way to put words on someones mouth and then claim they are being contradictory.

            Just because some elements existed in some form in the past doesn't mean they are outdated or not being used in a modern way.

            Flat design, 10 inch displays, colors, fonts, etc. All of which could have existed prior to current times, but still be used in such a way to have a modern look when combined with other elements. Such as dynamic information, configurable sizes, smooth scrolling display, etc.

            Likewise, desktop icons that have not changed in nearly 20 years do look dated when put next to nearly anything that has changed over the years.

            That wasn't so hard.
            Emacho
    • Don't like it? Don't use it.

      Do not know what the point is in begrudging others what is useful to them.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • Microsofts Understanding

        I totally agree with using both right now, as being a much older person it gives me time to learn both in my own time and not be pushed into something that takes some of us older generation a bit longer to learn. The totally young that do not agree, will someday understand. So again, thanks for not begrudging some of what is useful to me.
        kiley725
    • The Live Tiles on the start menu look nice

      They don't look nice to me. I see them as a kiddy playschool collection of tiles designed by the same people who created picture road signs so the illiterate could drive... It's an interface designed for a toy... (the Xbox)
      I don't look at Live tiles... ever...
      Chimera Obscura
      • Different strokes

        I love them
        larsonjs
      • "Kiddy". Hmmm. Google and Android users must love "kiddy"....

        https://play.google.com/store/search?q=windows%208%20theme%20for%20android%20free&c=apps

        Look at all of the win8/metro themes and the millions upon millions of downloads....
        Here is a review that you see over and over and over:

        Very cool! Its so easy, you don't have to download another launcher or anything & it really makes your phone just like a Windows phone!

        Yes, Android users are windows phone user wannabes but settled for cheap.

        EOS
        xuniL_z
        • You have got to be kidding

          What Android phone users want is "good." It's a functional, elegant OS and the best phones happen to run it. That a small percentage want to play with the remarkably ugly Windows interface means nothing one way or the other.
          josh442
        • "Kiddy".

          There are over 1 billion Android devices activated.
          https://plus.google.com/+VicGundotra/posts/8CVJ79nPQwN

          The first Windows 8 theme for Android on that page has been reviewed 22,082 times with an average rating of 3.8 out of 5....
          So, now then, what portion of 1 billion is 22,082 ???
          LOL
          Thanks for playing...
          Chimera Obscura
          • "Kiddy" - Google play itself looks like Metro let alone the many millions.

            of users downloading win8 themes. I wouldn't expect anything less from you than to find the worst rated and downloaded win8 theme on GP and use only that for your ABM calculations. Now be a good little $Screwgle sheeple and check the other hundred win8 themes and add up all of the downloads. Now you have a significant portion of Android users wanting the win8 UI.
            LOL
            Thanks for playing....
            xuniL_z
        • Really, Kreskin?

          When I got my phone, I simply wanted one that wouldn't make me dependent on Apple or Microsoft. I've seen how Apple ties its devices to iTunes and the App store and I don't like it--I have a 2nd gen iPod Nano and it's tedious to add music or back up what's on it, as compared with my outdated Sansa. I also don't like being told what features I do or do not need in a device. So, no Apple. As for Microsoft, I'm fine with them on my computer. I don't need them in my pocket, too. I've never felt the urge to download a theme that makes my phone look like a Windows phone, either. Interface works fine, easy to add media or remove it, has the features I need/want, including the panorama photo and siri-like apps that existed before they did on the iPhone...

          I don't care to have any single company controlling my entire tech life. Now that I think about it, I don't have Chrome on my laptop, either and I rarely use IE.
          ReginaPhalange