Windows 8.1 is the first big update to Windows 8. This update includes important improvements, not just in terms of performance, but also in terms of design, usability and features.
With Windows 8.1, Microsoft is ushering in a new cycle of updates that, instead of the big, once-every-three-years updates of previous editions, opts for more frequent, smaller updates.
Windows 8.1 is completely free for those who already own Windows 8.
In terms of changes, and leaving the classic "bugfixes and performance improvements" to one side, Windows 8.1 offers the following improvements:
Start Screen: The Start Screen includes two new tile sizes. The first is an extra large tile and the second is extra small.
App organization: Until now, it was a little messy searching for the app you wanted from the list of "All apps". In Windows 8.1, you can sort them by category, date installed, most used, and of course alphabetically.
Snap views: One of the least-used options in Windows 8 was the option to have apps share the screen - you could only snap to left or snap to right. Now the feature will offer much more freedom, with preset intelligent ratios, as well the option to manually set snap parameters.
Search improvements: The search was already powerful, but now it's even better. You don’t have to select a category any more: all of the files, apps, settings, and web suggestions will be laid out together. More importantly, you can play media files such as music directly from search.
Better syncing with SkyDrive: you no longer have to open the app to sync content.
Redesigned Windows Store: This one was really necessary, as both the design and usability of the store left a lot to be desired.
New apps: Bing Food & Drink, Bing Health & Fitness, Movie Moments, SmartGlass, Fresh Paint, Recorder, Alarms and Calculator. Also, updated are: Mail, Calendar, People, SkyDrive, Camera, Photos, Music, Skype, etc.
As well as these new features, Windows 8.1 brings us 2 new additions that are the talk of the town:
The return of the Start button: One of the biggest criticisms levelled at Windows 8 was the fact that the classic start button disappeared. In Windows 8.1, the start button is making a comeback, but not in the classic format. Now it's just a bridging point between the Modern UI interface and the Desktop. Whether this will silence the critics remains to be seen.
Boot to the Start screen being included in Windows 8.1: If you've got no interest in seeing tiles when you start your PC, now you're able to choose.
A more attractive, more usable Windows 8
Since Windows 8 was launched, Microsoft has spent its time collecting together user opinions. They've used them to create an update that aims to improve the Windows 8 user experience. In this sense, the new version seems spot on.
Windows 8.1 gives users more options, at both a personalization and feature level. More importantly, it lets the user decided if he or she wants a more tactile, Metro experience, or to keep to a more classic path.
A step in the right direction
Windows 8.1 is proof that Microsoft has embarked upon a new strategy based on listening more closely to user feedback and offering more regular updates. We think it's great.
Even so, we just can't shake the feeling that Windows 8.1 is for many what Windows 8 should have been from day one.
Note that if you proceed to install Windows 8.1 from the Store, you cannot return to Windows 8.