Windows 8.1 Update 1 leaked build suggests Microsoft is moving in the right direction

Windows 8.1 Update 1 leaked build suggests Microsoft is moving in the right direction

Summary: Here I take a look at the Windows 8.1 Update 1 build that leaked onto the web earlier this month. 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.

TOPICS: Microsoft, Windows 8

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.

Windows 8 Update 1

Another new feature is the ability to pin apps to the Taskbar.

Windows 8 Update 1

The Windows Store app is pre-pinned to it.

Windows 8 Update 1

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.

Windows 8 Update 1

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.

Windows 8 Update 1

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.

Windows 8 Update 1

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.

Topics: Microsoft, Windows 8

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  • "functional Start menu"

    The Start menu is extremely functional. Some might even say more functional than it was before.

    I happen to prefer the old Start menu, as it seems you do to, but just because the Menu is now a whole Screen, doesn't mean it isn't a menu.

    The question is whether or not you value the new functionality.
    x I'm tc
    • It's not about the size of it

      It's about the heavy context switch that happens when you go from your current application to a new one (the start screen) to launch another application. The old start menu made that process minimally disruptive.
      • Oh

        So it's all in your head.
        Larry Bishop
      • Actually, it is also about the size.

        You have a fair point, but it is indeed also about the size.

        The Start menu required you to move the mouse only a small distance to get to your app.

        The Start Screen forces you to move the mouse a really large distance, possibly from one end of the screen to the other, to get to your app.

        It's one of the reasons why the Start Screen "feels wrong" when using a mouse rather than a touch screen. It is in fact less efficient than the Start menu when using a mouse.
        • The ergonomics were considered

          If you read the very detailed posts by the Windows team during the development of Windows 8, you would know that these kinds of ergonomic issues were very much part of the design.

          Yes, you have to move the mouse further with a start screen versus a start menu. But it's actually easier to move a mouse a long way and hit a large target versus moving it a small way to hit a very small target. And cascading menus can be a nightmare to navigate with a mouse - how many times have you triggered a different sub menu when trying to get to an option? The old Start menu needed replacing...
          • Still not that great for a mouse.

            "But it's actually easier to move a mouse a long way and hit a large target versus moving it a small way to hit a very small target."

            Yes, it's harder to hit a small target, but mice are very precise, so they don't really need squares as large as what's needed for touch. And it doesn't completely eliminate the need to consider travel time. They may have hit the nail on the head for touch devices, but that really doesn't translate well to a mouse. I don't think they actually got the tradeoff between travel time and hit target size right for mice.

            The old Start menu had its faults, yes, and I hate the sub-sub-menu thing as much as anybody - but the Start screen isn't really that much better for a mouse. It was designed for touch, and that's pretty obvious.
          • Re: Still not great for a mouse

            >>Yes, it's harder to hit a small target, but mice are very precise, so they don't really need squares as large as what's needed for touch
          • Re: The ergonomics were considered

            Very well said. And I agree, too.
        • Thereagain

          the new W8 Start Menu is a lot easier to organise than the XP / 7 Start Menu. W95 made it easy, in XP and 7, reorganizing the menu was a pain, with personal menus and group menus, not having rights to move things around etc. On a private machine, where you log in as admin, this isn't a problem, but putting the icons into logical categories (folders) on a properly configured machine, where you don't have access to the admin account (E.g. a corporate machine), meant you had to pretty much put up with the default configuration that the IT department felt was right. Task pinning and the search box made reorganizing the start menu in Vista and 7 pretty irrelevant, because you never needed to go into navigate the start menu.

          This hasn't changed much in 8. If you use the desktop a lot, then 99% of the time, you applications are pinned to the taskbar and you still hit the Windows key on the keyboard and start typing in the name of the application you want, when it isn't pinned.

          The biggest bonus of the new Start Menu is the live tiles, you can see at a glance, whether you need to go into one of your new W8 Apps.
        • Start Screen Application Access

          CobraA1 it's only necessary to move your mouse from one edge the screen to the other to access a desired application if you don't have wheel on your mouse. With a mouse equipped with a wheel one only has to turn the wheel to access any desired application on the start screen.....because 99.9% of made for Windows mice have a wheel your allegation that it's necessary to move your mouse a very large distance to access applications is false.
        • Re: Actually, it is also about the size.

          The problem with the Start Menu is that you had to be somewhat precise with the mouse. I've seen many cases where people have clicked on the wrong application.

          With the Start Screen, you can pin all your favorite apps, folders and bookmarks (like with the Start Menu), but it is easier to click on. Also, you can arrange all of your most important tiles to the front and create groups and even name the groups.
        • Here's an Idea

          If you have an app that's on the other side of the scroll, why not move that tile to where it works for you?
          Crashin Chris
          • Exactly...

            Has no one discovered that your mouse will scroll from one side of the Start Screen to the other very quickly?
    • Re: "functional Start menu"

      I prefer the Start Screen over the Start Menu for so many reasons:

      1 - No more sub-menus. I hated that. It was a pain in the ass.
      2 - Limitations on how many apps or folders could be pinned to the Start Menu. The Start Screen doesn't have a limitation
      3 - Too small. The Start Menu was very small when you think about it. With the Start Menu, it's hard to miss a tile when you go to click on it.
  • all they have to do...

    Is essentially throw out the start screen to make those that this like it happy. Or they can be like every other OS and give you what they have and let you decide to either mod it or go a different route.
    • It makes me wonder...

      how these guys get on with iOS, Android and Chrome devices, AFAIK none of them have a Start Menu either.

      OS X never had a Start Menu either, yet people threaten to leave Windows for OS X, because the Start Menu has gone! OS X's closest analogue is the Launch Pad, which combines the worst bits of the Windows 95 Start Menu with the worst bits of the Windows 8 Start Menu - i.e. it is just a bung of huge icons which take over the whole screen. That said, I use Spotlight to launch unpinned applications on my iMac.
    • Re: all they have to do...

      But .. you can mod Windows. You can mess around with it and change. Maybe *not* to the same extent as Linux, but Windows comes fairly close.
  • all need is a first run for every profile

    click desktop mode or touch tablet mode or custom and let the user decide
    • One would think

      One would think that with the programming resources that Microsoft has they could search the hardware on the installation computer and determine if a touch interface exists. If it does exist, offer the choice to the user to start in desktop mode or touch mode; if it does not exist, then simply install only desktop mode.

      Oh, wait. That would require common sense.
      • Why?

        Why give tablet users a choice of Start Screen menu or Desktop and desktop users don't get a choice? I use Windows 8 on a laptop without touch and a tablet. I want both of them to boot to the Start Screen menu.

        I can see this profile option being useful for OEMs and enterprises, configuring thousands of machines. For a single user installing their own copy of Windows 8, it is a single click in the Task Bar dialog box. Most people buy a new machine with Windows pre-installed, very few install it for themselves on their own hardware and they generally have the nouse to know how to configure it to their liking.