Original Author: Michael Muchmore
Sure, Windows 8 has sold over 100 million copies in its 7 months of existence, and, for most products, that would be quite a triumph. But for Windows, software used by over a billion machines, it’s viewed as something of a disappointment. Whether Microsoft’s big bet of a desktop-plus-tablet operating system will prove as big of a disappointment as Vista, or going back even further, Windows ME—only time will tell.
Microsoft resurrected itself from those flubs with XP and Windows 7, and the company, hardly unaware of the widespread criticisms being leveled at its new baby, is acting even faster to right the ship than in the past, with Windows 8.1—formerly known by the codename Windows Blue.
I remain a steadfast fan of the new OS—I definitely prefer it to Windows 7, which I run on the same PC in a dual-boot setup. It’s much faster, better-looking, and adds some great new tools and capabilities. But even I concede that there’s definitely room for improvement in a few areas.
One of the main problems as I see it with Windows 8 is that there are hidden interface features: Things you need are not shown on the screen—such as the “charms,” those buttons on the right panel that only appear after a touch or mouse gesture that you may have picked up from the quick start tips shown during installation.
Another problem in Windows 8 is duplication of features: You have the new-style, full-screen version of things (formerly called “Metro”) and the “classic” Windows 7 desktop-style set of apps and tools. For example, there are two Internet Explorers, two Settings interfaces, and two SkyDrive applications for cloud storage. This duality comes from Windows 8’s goal to be both a mobile and desktop operating system—a daunting mission to be sure.
Microsoft has already partially lifted the veil on Windows 8.1 in blog posts and conference keynotes, and the company seems to be listening and addressing at least some of the criticisms. Below we’ve summarized what we know so far. But keep in mind that Microsoft is saving some surprises for its Build Conference later this month, having stated that the updated OS isn’t just about addressing user feedback, but actually adding brand-new features.
Some commentators have likened Windows 8.1 to a service pack, especially since it’s a free update. But Windows 8.1 is a more drastic re-thinking of the interface than any service pack I’ve seen. Those usually just add support for new hardware and performance and stability updates. I take the bump in version number to be a clear sign from Microsoft that this update is more than a mere service pack.
Before we dig into the new features, here’s what we know so far about Windows 8.1’s availability: It will be a free update, and will run on any hardware that the current version does, and all existing Windows Store apps will remain compatible. A preview version will be made available on June 26, to coincide with Build. Without further ado, here’s what we know about new Windows 8.1 features to this point:
The Start button is back, sort of. Longtime Windows power users bemoaned the excision of this old friend that dates way back to Windows 95. Amusingly, when the feature launched, power users (maybe even the same ones?) belittled it as dumbing down the operating system. And don’t get too excited about its reemergence in Windows 8.1: it’s not turning back the clock entirely. In fact, Microsoft’s announcements don’t even call it a Start button, but rather a “Start tip.”
This new Start button will open the new-style Windows 8 Start screen—you know, all those tiles. It’s the same function you’d get by moving the cursor to the lower-left corner of the screen in Windows 8. This isn’t really such a bad thing; just think of it as a full-screen start menu. You can still just start typing a program name to run it, and you can place your most-frequently needed apps’ tiles on the front page of the Start screen. If you really want something more reminiscent of the old Start button, check out a couple third-party Start button utilities or PCMag’s own Start Me Up utility.
- Start Button In Windows 8.1 Touted By Leaked Screenshot (read360.wordpress.com)
- This Windows 8.1 Demo Actually Uses Mouse, Start Button (tomshardware.com)
- Windows 8.1 Video Roundup: The New Start Button Finally Caught on Camera (news.softpedia.com)
- Microsoft: Return of the Start button (electronisoftware7.wordpress.com)