Less than a year since Microsoft unleashed Windows 8 on the unsuspecting public, they have seen fit to bring us the long anticipated 8.1 version which is now available for download for free in the Windows App Store.
The move to Windows 8 brought with it the new start interface simply named “Windows 8” and formerly known as “Metro”. The purpose of which is too bridge the gap between mobile, tablet, and PC platforms. One interface and one unified experience across all your favourite devices. Despite this grand idea, the result often leaves users familiar with previous windows interfaces lost and confused. The number one complaint I hear is “Where is the start button?”.
Personally, I find the new “Start” interface rather easy to use and does provide an efficient desktop alternative to pointing and clicking through the start menu of yore. Launching MS Word as an example: From the desktop, press the WINDOWS button on my keyboard, type “Word” and press ENTER. Tada! I’m documenting away far more quickly this way than navigating through the plethora of icons on my desktop or pinned to my task bar or through the old Start interface on the hunt for the MS Word Icon. Try it, you’ll love it.
That being said, Microsoft has heard your complaints and has returned the start button – Well, Sort of. You see, the Icon is there in it’s familiar place and rather stylish looking. Clicking it however simply brings you to Windows 8 tile interface which is still a major departure from Windows 7. In essence it is a virtual version of the Windows button on your keyboard. What is cool however is that opposite clicking it brings up a menu with a host of shortcuts and options such as settings and sign out. These options were likely the ones you used the old start button for in the first place, so this is a good thing.
Another improvement in Windows 8.1 designed to ease the transition from classic windows interfaces is the ability to boot up directly to the desktop, bypassing the Windows 8 tile screen.
There are also a host of other changes that aren’t related to desktop usability as well. For instance there is now support for gesture enabled apps. Using a camera enabled device, the user can change pages by motioning with their hand to the left or two the right in some apps. Automatic updates of App Store Apps and global search functionality are some other noteworthy improvements.
In all, this update should improve the experience of many users as it provides some important ease of use features leading towards a more fluid transition between older versions of Windows and Windows 8.
The update process was fairly strait forward and consisted of a download and install from the app store, followed by a license agreement and some standard configuration options to select. The entire process took just under 2 hours to complete on an HP Pavilion laptop with an i5 chip, 8GB of ram and a 5400RPM 1TB HDD.