Microsoft outs the new features in Windows 8.1, resurrects “Start” button

Windows 8.1 Logo

Windows 8.1 Blue Logo

Despite criticism on Microsoft’s latest Operating System, the company has sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses since its launched back in October last year. It is roughly in line with the sales made by the previous OS version (Win7).

Windows 7 was helped by the fact that it replaced the generally unpopular Windows Vista, whereas Windows 8 has confused many potential customers with its new-look ’tile’-based start screen and the omission of the traditional ‘Start’ button.

“The learning curve is real, and we need to address it,” said Tami Reller, Corporate VP and CFO for Microsoft’s Windows Division. “We’re not sitting back and saying, they will get used to it.”

Yesterday, Microsoft announced that they will be bringing back the “Start” button, offering a stripped-down version among a slew of improvements aimed at winning over tablet users and placating PC customers alienated by Windows 8.

Availability for Windows 8.1 has yet to be announced, but Microsoft intends on releasing a preview version of the operating system at its Build developer conference on June 26th. It will be a free update for Windows 8 and Windows RT users. Head past break for the “first look” at Windows 8.1 and outline some of the improvements, enhancements and changes customers will see.

Windows 8.1 Start Screen

Windows 8.1 Start Screen

Personalization:
In Windows 8.1, you’ll be able to do more to personalize the experience on your device. You can now turn your PC or tablet into a picture frame by making your Lock screen a slide show of your pictures – either locally on the device or photos from the cloud in SkyDrive. The team has also added the ability to take pictures with the built-in camera right from the Lock screen without having to log in.

You can even choose your desktop background as your Start screen background, creating a greater sense of unity and familiarity. And the Start screen in Windows 8.1 features a variety of tile sizes including a new large and new small tile, so you can organize your Start screen exactly the way you want it (similar to what they did with Windows Phone 8). It’s also even easier to name groups and rearrange tiles. You can now select multiple apps all at once, resize them, uninstall them, or rearrange them when you press and hold (or right click) to move things around.

Windows 8.1 offers more colors and backgrounds for the Start screen – including ones with motion.

Windows 8.1 offers more colors and backgrounds for the Start screen – including ones with motion.

You can view all apps just by swiping from the bottom to view all apps, and the ability to filter your apps by name, date installed, most used, or by category. You want the Start screen to be about all the things you love. So when you install a new app from the Windows Store, they no longer put that app on your Start screen. Instead, you’ll find these apps under apps view as mentioned above and marked as “new” where you can choose to pin the apps you want to your Start screen.

Quick actions include things you would want to do like play a song or video. Results from local files, apps, and settings are easily accessed in the same convenient view by scrolling to the left.

Quick actions include things you would want to do like play a song or video. Results from local files, apps, and settings are easily accessed in the same convenient view by scrolling to the left.

Search:
In Windows 8.1, the Search charm will provide global search results powered by Bing in a rich, simple-to-read, aggregated view of many content sources (the web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions you can take) to provide the best “answer” for your query. Hopefully, this will really change the way you interact with the Web and with windows making it quicker and easier to get things done. It is the modern version of the command line!

Improved multiple app running at once on Windows 8.1

Improved multiple app running at once on Windows 8.1

Apps and Windows Store:
There will be an improved built in apps that come with Windows 8 for Windows 8.1. For example, the Photos app now has some new editing features that lets you quickly edit or adjust photos when you view them in the Photos app or open them from other places like the Mail, SkyDrive, and Camera apps. While the Music app has been completely redesigned to help pick and play music from your collection. More updates on the built-in as well as brand new apps are on their way.

Windows 8.1 brings variable, continuous size of snap views. You will have more ways to see multiple apps on the screen at the same time. You can resize apps to any size you want, share the screen between two apps, or have up to three apps on each screen if you have a multiple displays connected, you can have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time and the Start Screen can stay open on one monitor. This makes multi-tasking even easier. Also in Windows 8.1, you can have multiple windows of the same app snapped together – such as two Internet Explorer windows.

The improved Windows Store in Windows 8.1 is designed to show more info than before in Windows 8 with detailed lists of top free apps, new releases, and picks for you on the homepage. The app listing is more descriptive and informative and includes an area for related apps to help with app discovery. Categories are listed with other app commands such as links to your apps and your account information. App updates install automatically in the background as well as they come through the Store. And search is available in the upper right hand corner for finding the apps you want.

The new SkyDrive app gives you access to your files that are on your device or in the cloud, and files are accessible even when offline.

The new SkyDrive app gives you access to your files that are on your device or in the cloud, and files are accessible even when offline.

Cloud Connectivity:
In Windows 8.1 your files can be saved directly to SkyDrive, so you can always have your files with you.

Also, when you log on to your Windows 8.1 device with your Microsoft account (Outlook.com by default), your device magically becomes personalized with your settings and apps, making switching or setting up a new device really easy.

PC Settings:
The updated PC Settings in Windows 8.1 gives you access to all your settings on your device without having to go to the Control Panel on the desktop. You can do things like change your display resolution, set power options, see the make and model of my PC, change the product key, let me do Windows Update, and even join a domain – all from PC Settings. You can even manage SkyDrive from PC Settings as well and see how much available storage you have (and buy more if needed).

Internet Explorer:
Web browsing continues to be one of the most popular activities on any device. That’s why with Windows 8.1, you also get Internet Explorer 11 (IE11). IE11 builds on the advancements in IE10 and is the only browser that is built for touch. IE11 will offer even better touch performance, faster page load times and several other new features we think you will enjoy. For example, you can now adjust the appearance of modern IE11 to always show the address bar and you can have as many open tabs as you like. And you can access your open tabs in sync across your other Windows 8.1 devices.

Better Mouse and Keyboard Options:
PCs today are evolving for a world of mobile computing where people interact with their devices through touch, and the team improved the way you navigate to Start with the mouse by changing the Start “tip” to be the familiar Windows logo. The new tip appears anytime you move the mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen, and is always visible on the taskbar when on the desktop. There are also options to change what the corners do, and options to boot into alternate screens. For example, if you prefer to see the Apps view versus all the tiles, you can choose to have the Start screen go directly to Apps view.

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