This month's update rollup for Windows 8.1 delivers more than just bug fixes

Monthly update rollups for Windows are nothing new, but this month's release breaks some new ground. Alongside the normal collection of bug fixes, the August 2014 Update Rollup includes a handful of new features. Here's what you'll find.

Windows 8.1 users will find a few surprises in the August 2014 update rollup, available under the Optional heading in Windows Update along with this month's security fixes for Windows, Internet Explorer, and the Adobe Flash code baked into Internet Explorer 11.

These update rollups aren’t a new thing. It’s not even news that Windows Update has switched to delivering performance and reliability updates alongside security fixes every month on Patch Tuesday (AKA Update Tuesday).

What is different about today’s update is the addition of new and updated features along with the bug fixes in the monthly update rollup. Today’s release is, perhaps, getting more attention than it deserves, thanks to persistent rumors in recent months that Microsoft was planning to drop a major update to Windows, comparable to the one it delivered in April.

Instead, Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc said in a blog post last week, this minor update is the new normal: “[R]ather than waiting for months and bundling together a bunch of improvements into a larger update as we did for the Windows 8.1 Update, customers can expect that we’ll use our already existing monthly update process to deliver more frequent improvements along with the security updates normally provided…”

And that’s exactly what’s in KB2975719. When installed on Windows 8.1, Windows RT 8.1, or Windows Server 2012 R2, the following new features are installed:

  • More information on the Windows Update tab in PC Settings, specifically the date and time of the last update check as well as when updates were last installed. Currently, that information is only available when checking Windows Update from the desktop Control Panel.
  • Significant refinements to settings for controlling the behavior of precision touchpads. (The Precision Touchpad is a new touchpad design, co-engineered by Microsoft and Synaptics, that was introduced last year and is built into the Surface Pro 3.) Anyone who occasionally uses a notebook with a mouse attached will appreciate the opportunity to control the functioning of the built-in touchpad. Other new features include the ability to double-tap and drag and to allow right-clicks on the touchpad
  • As previously announced, out-of-date Java plugins are now automatically blocked in Internet Explorer.
  • Anyone who uses SharePoint Online with federated accounts will be grateful that they no longer have to respond to multiple login prompts after clicking the “Keep me signed in” check box.
  • The Ruble is now supported for currency input and rendering.

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A few API changes are of interest mostly to developers and won’t pay off for end users until software and drivers take advantage of these features. Specifically, device makers can use the new Wi-Fi Direct APIs for Discoverability to build applications that can turn a Windows device into a Miracast receiver. (In Windows 8.1 without this update, PCs are only able to send content to a Miracast receiver such as a TV.) And video capture apps can write “Date taken” and GPS metadata to MP4 video files.

The August update rollup includes dozens of bug fixes, many of them for obscure issues, as well as the monthly set of reliability and performance improvements for the OneDrive sync client.

Today’s update isn’t mandatory, but it does require the April 2014 Windows 8.1 Update (KB2919355). If that update isn’t installed, today’s update isn’t available.

Since the release of Windows 8 in summer 2012, Microsoft has delivered significant feature updates in big bundles spaced months apart. With Windows 8.1 dropping last October and the Windows 8.1 Update arriving in April, it was reasonable to wonder whether the plan was to follow a tick-tock cadence of updates every six months, similar to Ubuntu’s schedule. Today’s release appears to answer that question with an emphatic no, suggesting instead that new features will appear when they’re ready, as part of a monthly update.