Windows 8.1, the first major update to Windows 8 and RT, has officially released today. And, you should install it.

Microsoft has rolled out the update to its touch-centric Windows 8 operating system today. The Windows 8.1 comes as a free upgrade for those who use Windows 8 while those who use an older version of the OS need to purchase a copy.

The newest version comes in response to the cold reception of end users to the Windows 8. The first big refresh of the OS came with a flashy marketing campaign but failed to convince consumers. The world wasn’t ready to see the “Start” button gone, not ready for the tile interface, and found the supposedly simple operating system complicating their most basic computing tasks. In short, the Windows 8 was a flop.

[one_half]Instead of boosting the sales figures of the PC, the Windows 8 actually pushed the shipments down. In fact, PC sales went on a decline for several months in a row. A lot of users didn’t have touch-screen computers so find Windows 8 useless or find it as very confusing.[/one_half]

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Windows 8.1 Preview will no longer work after January 14, 2014

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Windows 8.1 aims to address the issues that its predecessor failed to solve. One of the biggest news is the return of the Start button. While it goes to the Start screen instead of the Start menu, it is still the Start button. It also hopes to bridge the gap between the Start screen and the desktop by injecting enhancements to ease integration of the modern interface. Just like how CEO Steve Ballmer described the latest build, Microsoft is trying to “refine the blend.”

Sticking With Live Tiles

If you are a Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 user, the Windows 8.1 will look very familiar. It starts up quickly, makes you sign in, and the Live Tiles will pop in front of you. For first timers, you will see a demo when you set the system up plus there will be tips on how you can navigate around the updated OS.

The Live Tiles can come big and small. You can also view three different locations for the Weather Tile. The Calendar is still there to show you what your set events are for that day.

windows 8.1 start screen

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Windows RT 8.1 Preview will need to upgrade to Windows RT 8.1 through the Windows Store.

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[one_half_last]The tile for the Windows Store becomes very active in recommending apps for users. The Start Screen is centered on apps while the desktop can now make use of livelier tiles instead of boring icons.[/one_half_last]

Desktop users will also love how one can bring up a view of all of your apps that you can sort and arrange to your liking however suppressing the Start Screen takes some work.

Visually Familiar, Visually Good, Visually Functional

If you love the all familiar Start Button and missed it on the Windows 8, the latest update to the OS brings it back. However, with Windows 8.1, users will see the Start button on the Start Screen. It can be used to switch to and from the desktop and Start screen. The squarish tip found on Windows 8 is gone and the returning Start button somehow makes things familiar. Calm your horses though as the Start Menu isn’t back.

windows 8.1 start button

Microsoft has also thrown a lot of options to customize Windows 8.1. Users who love switching from one color scheme to another can make use of a color picker that is much better than how things are done on Windows 8. There’s also a load of animated backgrounds that move when you swipe across the screen. Users will also love how you can use the wallpaper on your desktop as the backdrop of the Start Screen.

One great feature of the Windows 8.1 is Snap View. Users can organize apps in rows, which for me is very functional and useful. The applications supports multiple windows and can even be extended to multiple monitors if needed. The system will give you a preview of an app you are opening while you have a partial view of your current app. When you open an app while you are on the snapped view, the system will hint you where you can place the app with the floating tile that shakes from side to side. Users can configure how the snapped view would look depending if you are using a tablet, a really big monitor, or multiple monitors.

Give it to me Bing

[one_half]One of the biggest changes you will see on Windows 8.1 is how the Search feature works. When searching for something, the system will suggest apps, settings you might want to explore, and other things that might be exciting for you. Instead of a screaming full screen, you get everything in the Search pane. If you want to see it on full screen, you can do so with no sweat.[/one_half]

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Windows 8.1 provides no-compromise experience on the same hardware that runs Windows 7 and Windows 8.

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windows 8.1 search

Bing also brings up results from your SkyDrive and your own hard disk drive, plus content from different corners of the web including possible email messages, bands, music album, places, or individuals.

In short, Bing will be your search hero in Windows 8.1.

All in the Cloud

With all the improvements on the visuals and set of features, the SkyDrive also plays a big role in the new setup. The cloud storage system of Microsoft will help users operate any computer with a Windows 8.1 system like their own PC. The SkyDrive syncs everything you want to sync.

While everything from files, apps, and settings are stored in the cloud, users can download what they want to have offline. Likewise, one can log in into another device and have their apps and documents ready to use.

windows 8.1 skydrive

Sync is definitely one of the most welcome features for this Windows update.

Conclusion

The Windows 8.1 makes the switch to the app and tile centric operating system easier. We give the new search, sync enhancements, and snap views, two thumbs up but things may still be a bit awkward for mouse and keyboard users. There are improvements on the desktop interface but not so many as it forces one to adapt to the modern interface. The new Windows isn’t really about windowing like how we used to know it but more on apps and tiles.

Get Windows 8.1 Update now!

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