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Windows 8.1: smoothing out Windows 8's rough edges
If you've spent any hands-on time with the Windows 8.1 Preview, you already have a good idea what to expect in this update, which is free to anyone running Windows 8. (If you missed it, you can catch up here: Hands-on with the Windows 8.1 preview.)
There were some important changes between the public Preview release and RTM. See What's changed in the Windows 8.1 RTM release? for details.) The public release adds only a few minor changes to the code that MSDN and TechNet subscribers and Volume License customers have had for months. But today's release kicks off a wave of updates on the back end, meaning you'll see changes in services and a wave of new apps designed for Windows 8.1.
Windows 8 introduced the bare bones of automatic syncing, with many system settings and preferences syncing between devices when you sign in with a Microsoft account.
Windows 8.1 adds significant improvements to that infrastructure, including the option to sync apps and Start screen layouts across devices. When you sign in using a Microsoft account for the first time on a new device, this screen lets you choose another PC as the template for your new installation.
One of the biggest objections to Windows 8 was the way it unceremoniously dumped new users into an unfamiliar interface without a compass or a roadmap. Windows 8.1 tries to make up for that shortcoming with some hints like the one shown here, which points out how to access the charms menu. There's also a useful set of tutorials that are available on the Start screen.