It would be fair to say, at this point, that Windows 8 has not been a success. Beyond the typically harsh technology community, even the everyday users of Windows 8 are not content.
The fragmentation between the elements of Windows 7 that made it into Windows 8 and the more ‘Modern UI’/Metro elements are confusing, with basic Microsoft products such as the Office suite awkwardly flipping between the two states.
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Things that people loved, such as the Start Menu, have been removed and replaced with a more Windows Phone-style Start screen, signaling a change of focus on Microsoft’s part from desktop to tablet – a change that is not intrinsically good.
Thankfully, Microsoft has been listening and produced Windows 8.1, which made amends for some of the features that were omitted, or removed, from previous versions of Windows. Unfortunately, 8.1 didn’t go all the way in fixing Windows as it currently is, which is why Microsoft is going to release Windows 8.1 Update 1 (a mouthful, to say the least).
A copy of Update 1 was accidentally leaked by Microsoft itself on its software updates page but will be formally announced at Build 2014. Here we’ll take a look at what’s new.
What’s new in Update 1
With Update 1, Microsoft has aimed to create an operating system that will work better on low-range hardware, requiring only 1GB of RAM and 16GB of mass storage to run (Windows 8.1 required at least 2GB of RAM and 32GB of mass storage).
The focus is obviously on spreading Windows across as many PCs as possible, especially in business where Microsoft is considered to be losing its edge against Android and Apple tablets and smartphones.
Microsoft has also moved the software power button onto the home screen for easier access, as well as chafing the right-click behaviour when clicking on the Live Tiles or Modern UI elements of the OS. Right-clicking now brings up a regular Windows context menu, even in Modern UI apps, as opposed to the options pane as before.
Unfortunately this introduces yet more fragmentation, as the new contextual options don’t always match those within the app. While many users won’t notice, it does further increase the sense that Microsoft has essentially bolted two OSes onto each other and called it a day.
With Windows 8, Microsoft chose to rather turn their backs on keyboard and mouse users, choosing instead to hastily focus on the touchscreen aspect of the OS. Update 1 goes some way to retrace their steps and make features which were previously difficult to access with a mouse far easier to find.
We’ve used a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 with both fingers and a mouse, so it’s easy to see how neglected laptop and desktop users would feel. Some operations that were easily completed with your finger would take multiple mouse movements and clicks before being completed on a desktop.
Another added bonus for desktop users is the ability to boot directly to the desktop, meaning you can use Windows 8.1 as you would have used Windows 7.
Internet Explorer also shows the tabs and address bar by default, again cutting down the clicks. Clicking on photos and videos in the desktop mode opens them in the desktop, not Metro, apps, too.
Not all of Windows 8.1 Update 1’s changes are positive, however. Microsoft have decided to make the taskbar accessible throughout the OS, regardless of which environment — Modern UI or classic Windows — you’re in.
Summoning the taskbar in Modern UI apps forces the taskbar to overlay over the bottom of the content, obscuring some of it from view and click-ability. Not only is the implementation ugly, but it is also a usability nightmare and something Microsoft should address before releasing Update 1 to the public.
SkyDrive has been rebranded to OneDrive and is making its debut in Update 1, however very little has changed from the SkyDrive app in Windows 8.1.
While Windows 8.1 Update 1 doesn’t address all of the issues that users have with the operating system, it certainly goes some way towards amending some of the more gaping wholes. Desktop, and laptop, is now easier with the integration of the two modes — desktop and Metro — becoming a little closer.
The fact that Microsoft is even considering an Update 1 is a sign of progress, having left previous OSes for years without major updates. Choosing to follow Apple’s yearly update calendar will serve Microsoft well in the eyes of their users, and that’s what matters.
- Now why not check out 15 Windows 8.1 annoyances fixed