What's new in Windows 8.1

What's new in Windows 8.1

Summary: If you're running Windows 8, you definitely want this free update. If you looked at Windows 8 and said "No, thanks," the new features and extensive refinements in this release make it worth a second look. Here's what you'll find inside.

TOPICS: Windows 8

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  • Helpful hints

    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.

  • More snap options

    A common complaint about those "chromeless" Windows apps is that they couldn't easily be arranged on the screen. That's a special source of frustration for anyone with a large desktop display. Windows 8.1 completely overhauls the way immersive (aka Metro) apps can be arranged. More importantly, it gives app developers a way to automatically open a new window alongside an existing one. So if you click a link in an email message (as shown on the left here) the window shrinks to occupy half the screen and a browser window opens alongside.

    The new snap behavior also makes it possible to open separate instances of Internet Explorer or mail, so you can have two web pages or mail messages open side by side using the touch-friendly immersive Internet Explorer or Mail app.

  • Start screen customization options

    The bright tiles introduced in Windows 8 are still there, but the Windows 8.1 Start screen packs a lot of changes, many of them shown here:

    • You have four tile sizes instead of the two in Windows 8. That means you can shrink utilities to roughly the size of a desktop icon and pack four into the space previously taken by one small tile. The new Large tile size allows more information in live tiles for information-rich apps like News, Weather, and Mail.
    • The Start screen background can be set to the same as the desktop, making the transition to the Start6 screen less jarring.
    • The tiles for desktop apps, like the Office programs in the second group on this screen, now pick up the color of the program icon.
    • You can quickly select multiple tiles and resize or move them as a group. Windows 8 made you perform each of these actions one tile at a time.
    • New programs aren't automatically added to the Start screen. That's s small victory over the forces of chaos and clutter.

    And as you'll see on the next page, there's an alternative to the Start screen.

    (PS: If you use desktop apps exclusively and hate the new-style Start screen, a few small tweaks can change your experience for the better. See The Metro hater's guide to Windows 8.1 for details.)

Topic: Windows 8

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  • What's new in Windows 8.1

    Thanks , very helpful indeed
  • Good work, Ed.

    Thank you for the usual enlightening article. (Doesn't mean I like that cluttered busy mess that is Windows 8 though.)
  • Moan moan moan

    81 PC limit already met! :-P

    Seriously, nice summary. Just waiting for it to appear in the App Store so that I can get going.
  • 8.1

    Sorry ED, but this looks fore chaoic than 8 or at least the way in which you presented the upgrade.

    I really have no clue as to what to expect when I do the upgrade. ...will it integrate with 8 or replace it and all my setting and apps etc. Very confusing as to what will happen when I click the
    the Windows Update button. Please make this clearer as to the installation of this upgrade.
    Just looking at the screen preview of the new approach in some areas is fine but let's take it from the beginning ..i.e. installing it and the possible problems if I don't want to start over.

    thanks ...as always

  • which points out how to access the charms menu

    What if you're a new Win8 user and have no idea what Charms, or a Charms Menu even is?
    • What if you're a new Win8 user...

      What if you're a new Win8 user and have no idea what Charms, or a Charms Menu even is?

      "There's also a useful set of tutorials that are available on the Start screen"
  • Still a Vista disaster then?

    Don't see any improvements to the desktop here, and as I have no interest in the tekram I'll stick with win7 or maybe switch entirely to Mint Linux
    • There were lots of subtle improvements to the desktop in plain Win8

      Better File Explorer, Task Manager. A new version of Notepad!

      I think the only change in 8.1 is the (re-) addition of the start button "icon" on the task bar.
  • Windows 8x

    You give up a lot of useful features in Win7 to go to Win8. No matter how you try to describe it, it's still a smartphone OS adapted to use on a PC.

    Full Screen Applications? You've got to be freaking kidding me! Oh, but you can click a link and now you have two half screen apps open. Woo-hoo. What a waste.

    SkyDrive as the default file location? So, you're limited to 7GB of storage for all your docs, pics, songs, etc. Good thing you have a 1TB local HDD.

    I'm liking my Win7 more and more every day.
    • Care to clarify?

      "You give up a lot of useful features in Win7 to go to Win8"

      Care to qualify your remarks? Clearly you are an expert. Share your list with us.
      • Don't hold your breath for an answer

        People who tend to make such hyperbolic comments tend to vanish when pressed for a list to support their claims.

        Not that there is anything wrong with someone being more comfortable with Windows7 and not wanting to upgrade to Windows8. What I don't get is how people act like they are going to be forced to use full screen apps in any way. Nothing is stopping users from ignoring metro apps and just using desktop programs. I do it at work all day long.
      • Probably has nothing

        People who say stuff like that (what you're quoting) without providing specific examples then and there most likely don't have any examples to provide.
        Third of Five
    • What useful features do you speak of?

      we anxiously await your list.
      John Zern
    • Okay, Convince me

      Heres what I gained by going to 8.1 from win 7.. If your happy with 7 as I was that's awesome, but stop it with it all that fud.

      I updated 2 desktops and 1 laptop from windows 7 to 8.1 (finally used my upgrades) ..So far I see improvements in BOOT UP speed to applications speed. IE11 simply smokes now. Start "button" is much more useful now than in win 7. Right click on it gets me more function than old button ever did.

      Bing Smart Search is just awesome, no comparison .

      Start screen, after you customize to what you use it , delete or unpin what you don't use regularly its a beautiful thing.8.1 So much more flexability, customizing than win 7 ever gave you. You don't like Live Tiles , Turn them off.

      Machines all synced running 8.1 . I can configure what I want synced. Nice!
      Skydrive integration, Multiple window mode

      XBX Music Etc...Not trying to convince anyone to upgrade. But after using customizing my machines to look & feel I use, I simply would not go back to any older versions. I would lose way to many features If I went back.

      Okay now, tell me all those features you lose by upgrading. Give me examples of anything you can do now that I cant. Maybe you'll convince me to go back and lose what I got now.

      Take Care
  • Love it!

    I have been running the RTM bits since they have became available in Technet. I'm looking forward to seeing the Office apps in a touch first format.
  • What's new in Windows 8.1

    Best and funniest line out of all the slides:

    "(Prediction: at least three people will hit this limit and tell the world about it in the Talkback section of this gallery.)"

    Its amazing that will actually happen.
  • 2 GB?!

    Who runs an i7 with only 2 GB of RAM??
    • Virtual machine!

      I assigned 4 GB of RAM in a Hyper-V virtual machine, with Dynamic Memory option. So that's how much virtual RAM it was actually using when I did that screenshot.

      Ed Bott
    • Well

      I could. Because my operating system doesn't eat 1.5GB of that 2GB. :^3
  • Stupid name #462: Immersive Browser

    We can add "Immersive Browser" to the list of stupid names that the Microsoft Marketing department keeps coming up with, right alongside "Windows RT" and "Modern" and "Windows Store" being used to describe Metro apps.

    What Microsoft should have done instead is come up with an intelligent name for the tablet personality of Windows and use that as the name of the "other" browser.