A few days ago a Windows 8.1 Update 1 internal build leaked onto the web, and given the fact that I'm really curious as to the direction in which Microsoft is planning to take Windows in, I decided to take a look. I've made no bones about the fact that I have a strong dislike of Windows 8, so even I was quite surprised by the fact that I was pleased by what I saw.
IMPORTANT: Everything here is based on a leaked build of Windows 8.1 Update 1, which means that it's not a beta, and not intended for public consumption. Also, we have to assume by the build date – 14th of January, 2014 – that quite a lot will have changed since, and that the final release might look different. The best we can get from this leaked build is a snapshot of where Microsoft is going. Windows 8.1 Update 1 is rumored to be set for official release in April.
Oh, and no, I won't tell you where to find the leaked build, so don't bother asking!
With that out of the way, let's take a look at some of the changes. And there are quite a few.
The first thing that struck me was that there were two new buttons positioned on the top-right of the Start screen. One opens the Search charm, and the other is a power button. Both of these are welcomed additions in my opinion because they both demystifies the operating system and reduces on unnecessary clicks and gestures.
Another new feature is the ability to pin apps to the Taskbar.
The Windows Store app is pre-pinned to it.
You now also have better control over how you sort the Start screen. By right-clicking an app to get the context menu up which allows you to unpin that item from Start screen and/or taskbar, resize the tile, or even uninstall it.
Feel blinded by having to search through dozens of apps? Well, now the App screen adds a new alphabetical view in search, which makes the job a little easier (if you know what you are looking for).
One new feature that I was quite taken aback finding was that apps now have a title bar when you move the cursor to the top of the screen. Not only does this make them feel more like regular Windows applications – which is what I think Microsoft is trying to do – but it makes arranging then, minimizing them, and closing them easier.
Microsoft has also throwing enterprise users a bone by adding something called Enterprise Mode into Internet Explorer. The idea behind this is that is helps ease compatibility issues with websites. You currently have to dig in the registry to make it work and I plan to investigate this further.
What the leaked Windows 8.1 Update 1 build doesn't have is a boot directly to the Desktop by default – a feature which was widely rumored – you can still set the Desktop as a default manually (as you could do in Windows 8.1). This setting alone has boosted my Windows 8 productivity dramatically and I'm glad to see that it is still present. I would still like to see this checkbox checked by default.
All that's left for Microsoft to do in Windows 8.1 Update 1 is offer a functional Start menu, and I think I might consider all the nonsense introduced with Windows 8 undone and the operating system fixed for regular desktop and notebook users.