The first major update for Windows 8.1 is available to download, and it comes with a number of user interface (UI) improvements that tablet users should be aware of.
This certainly isn’t a major overhaul of Windows 8.1, but Microsoft has addressed some minor issues and gripes, and created more continuity between the Desktop and Modern modes. Users of desktops, notebooks, and hybrids will appreciate the added support for a mouse and keyboard. Previously, Windows 8 felt as though it was heavily geared toward touch interfaces, but this new version brings features that make Windows 8.1 work for more than just tablet and hybrid users.
This is a cumulative update, meaning all previous 8.1 patches are included, including two new security-related ones. It’s also a necessary download for all Windows 8.1 users in order to keep their devices up to date and compatible down the line.
Changes that are immediately obvious include include new power and search buttons in the upper righthand corner of the Start Screen.
The power button now makes it easy to quickly reboot, shut down, or put a Windows 8.1 device to sleep without having to navigate through menus.
For those using a device with a physical keyboard, just typing has always brought up the search feature automatically, but the new symbol provides easier access to those that forget to make use of the feature. However, users with screens 8.5-inches or smaller will only see the power button, and will have to search using the other methods, including the search button in the Charm Bar.
The Taskbar is no longer reletaged to just Desktop Mode — it now appears on the Start Screen too. Metro apps running in the background will now show up on the Taskbar, similar to open programs in Desktop Mode.
For those using their tablet with a mouse or trackpad, right clicking on apps now brings up a menu where users can alter icons and resize them quickly, rather than using the touchscreen to perform these tasks.
Users running Windows 8.1 on a notebook or desktop will automatically boot directly to Desktop Mode, rather than the Start Screen. Tablet users will, by default, be taken to the Start Screen, but have the option of booting to the Desktop if they wish.
There is a new notification that will pop up at the bottom of the start screen to tell the user how many new apps they have installed. Recently downloaded apps will also feature the word “new” in blue next until they are opened for the first time.
Users can also opt to display more programs on the app menu at one time, and Microsoft increased the column width on the Start Screen to display longer app titles.
The update improves continuity between desktop and app modes, with the ability to pin Modern/Metro apps to the taskbar. Users can now launch apps pinned to the taskbar directly from Desktop Mode, rather than navigating back to the Start Screen.
Users can also hover over app icons in the taskbar to see a preview without having to exit Desktop Mode. With apps such as Xbox Music, users can switch songs and even update playlists from the thumbnail view in desktop mode.
As mentioned earlier, while in the Start Screen, users can now bring up the taskbar by moving their mouse to the bottom of the display. This feature is also available while in apps, making it easier for users to transition between apps and desktop programs.
Users may also opt to include “minimize” and “close” buttons in apps, so that it is easier to use a trackpad or mouse within apps.
These features will make it easier for those who rely on a keyboard and mouse to navigate between Desktop Mode and apps, with improved compatibility between the two sides of Windows 8.1. Essentially, it seems Microsoft is focusing on eliminating any sense of separation between desktop and app modes while using Windows 8.1. The changes are minor, but they are paving the way to improved continuity, especially for the number of users who rely on their Windows 8 device as a notebook or desktop, rather than a tablet.
Finally, a few apps have received updates, with some minor tweaks to Internet Explorer 11. SkyDrive is now OneDrive across the entire platform, meaning everything reflects the rebranding of Microsoft’s cloud storage program.
Users can download the update on their Windows 8.1 device now, however, some reports have indicated that users have experienced difficulties successfully downloading and installing the update.