Microsoft has gone a long way towards fixing many of the interface goofs and anomalies of Windows 8; With the release of Windows 8.1, it’s also cleaned up the OS’s rough edges and introduced some nice new features and apps.
We’ve finally had some hands-on time with an official build of Windows 8.1 – and yes, many of the rumors and leaks are accurate. The Start button is back, you can boot to the desktop and use the same image as your desktop. SkyDrive is built in to sync files – on Windows 8.1
Microsoft has thankfully made some tweaks to the interface, along with upgraded apps and other enhancements that users will appreciate. But it’s important to note that if you were hoping for a return to a Windows 7 layout, you’re going to be disappointed; Microsoft is sticking to its guns on the Modern UI (the tiled Start screen interface), and you’ll still be using it as your main launching point. With that said, Microsoft has added a few features that make it a bit more palatable to keyboard-and-mouse Windows desktop users.
One of the biggest complaints for Windows 8 was the removal of the Start (or Windows) button in the lower-left corner of the desktop. Microsoft’s move toward touch-screen computing made it rethink the way people use their computers in Windows 8, but those who spent years clicking the Start button to navigate the OS weren’t pleased with an entirely new way of doing things.
Microsoft has reintroduced the Start button in Windows 8.1 in the lower-left corner of the screen. Clicking on it brings up the Start screen, where you can type a few letters to find and open apps, just like in Windows 8. While you still don’t get the exact same pop-up menu you had in Windows 7, Microsoft has added the ability to right-click the new Start button to get to common Control Panel settings, open the Task Manager, perform a search, and other useful system tools. At the bottom of the pop-up menu you have the option to shut down or restart your computer — a function that was previously found in Windows 8 by mousing to the top-right corner of the screen, dragging downward, clicking Settings, clicking Power, then clicking Shutdown or Restart.
A change that many users will appreciate is the capability to set up the Windows machine to boot directly to the desktop from within the OS.
In Windows 8, Xbox Music allowed you to stream free music from a huge library of more than 30 million songs. In Windows 8.1, the app has been redesigned to make it easier to move around the interface. A left navigation pane lets you start a radio station, explore artists, play songs from your collection, or create and manage playlists. On the right side of the screen you can view artists, explore content, watch videos, and more.
The search charm in Windows 8.1 does a little more than it did before. Now when you perform a search, you’ll get global results from several sources including files, SkyDrive, apps, and the Web. All your search results are displayed horizontally, with more results from other sources when you scroll to the right.
In Windows 8.1 you’ll now be able to run more apps simultaneously on one monitor by resizing app windows and using the Snap function. Now, you can have up to four running apps on one screen simultaneously, as long as your screen has a high enough resolution: 2,560×1,440 pixels is required to display four simultaneous apps. With a dual-monitor setup, you could have eight apps running at once. On the Surface Pro that Microsoft loaned us for testing, we were only able to get three apps on one screen (Surface Pro features a 1,920×1,080 resolution), but it was easy to see how it could be useful.
Microsoft has added some personalization features with both the Start screen and lock screens so people can add a bit of their own style to desktops and tablets. There are more colors to choose from for backgrounds, and you can display a slideshow on your lock screen with photos currently on your hard drive or from those stored on SkyDrive.
Windows 8.1 Preview is much better than Windows 8.