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What’s New in Windows 8.1 Update

Microsoft’s latest update to Windows 8.1 — which has now been officially christened Windows 8.1 Update – continues Microsoft’s efforts to file off the rough edges of the initial Windows 8 release. Although Microsoft won’t describe it as such, Windows 8.1 Update can be viewed as yet another step backwards from the touch-optimized initial Windows 8 release and a step towards satisfying the needs of mouse and keyboard users.

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To that end, the bulk of the improvements in this update — which is slated to be officially released this Spring, despite some recent early leaks on the web — center largely around improving the desktop experience for users without touch hardware who rely mostly on mice and keyboards to get their work done.

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Will Windows 8.1 Update 1 have what it takes to mollify Windows 8 critics? (Image: Microsoft)

Windows 8.1 Update: Improvements and Changes

Let’s take a look at a few of the major changes and improvements in this update, most of which were mentioned by Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore in a post on the Windows Phone blog during last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Given that some of this information is preliminary and from multiple sources, please check back regularly as I update the article with newer and potentially more accurate information.

Boot to Desktop by Default: Windows 8.1 introduced the ability to enable booting to desktop as an option, but Tom Warren at The Verge is reporting that the latest build “…only boots to the desktop on non-touchscreen PCs by default.” This boot to desktop by default feature for keyboard and mouse users could go a long way to addressing some of the gripes that Petri IT Knowledgebase readers (and yours truly) have long had about Windows 8.

New Right-Click Context Sensitive Menus: A convenient feature for mouse and keyboard users is the ability to right-click on a UI element — such as the Windows desktop, the task bar, or other interface elements — and get a context-sensitive menu that provides additional options. While that functionality has always existed in the desktop mode of Windows 8/8.1, Paul Thurrott over at the Windows Supersite says that Microsoft is planning to a add that functionality to the Metro side of Windows 8.1.

Taskbar on the Start Screen: Another chance being discussed for this update is a change to how the desktop task bar behaves when switching between the desktop and Metro interfaces. In Windows 8.1, the task bar would vanish when you switched to the Metro-fied Start Screen. In Windows 8.1 Update, the taskbar remains onscreen when you switch to the start screen. I’ll try to add a photo and/or video of this functionality in action in the near future. Regardless, this change should also help PC desktop users accustomed to the traditional start menu and task bar feel at home.

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Search and Power Buttons on the Start Screen: Microsoft is adding some icons to make shutting down and searching easier for desktop and mouse users, namely by adding power and search buttons to the upper right corner of the Metro start screen. I can tell from watching friends and family members using Windows 8 for the first time that simply shutting down the machine and searching for content are not that intuitive, so adding visual icons for these should be helpful.

Pin Metro Apps to Desktop Taskbar: Another area where I’ve seen users stumble when using Windows 8 is when trying to find and open Metro apps from the desktop side. It’s honestly a confusing mess, and Windows 8.1 Update should address this UI mistake as well. ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley says that the update will give users the ability to pin Metro apps to the Windows 8.1 desktop task bar, which will make it much easier to access Metro apps from the desktop side.

Improved  IE8 compatibility in Internet Explorer 11: Belfiore calls this new functionality out specifically in his post, saying that  the Windows 8.1 Update release will enhance IE8 compatibility for Internet Explorer 11 users “…which is especially critical for web-based line of business applications.” ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley has recently reported a bit on this feature in the past, which has been referred to as IE 11 ‘ enterprise mode.’

Cheaper Windows 8 partner licensing costs: Belfiore mentions that Microsoft will “…enable our partners to build lower cost hardware for a great Windows experience at highly competitive price points.” That can only mean that Microsoft plans to reduce the licensing costs that it charges hardware partners to

Improved mobile device management capability: Microsoft has steadily been building out the ability to more effectively manage mobile devices on the IT management and server side with impressive updates to Windows Intune and Microsoft System Center, so it was only logical that the company introduce additional hooks on the client side to facilitate easier management of Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone mobile devices on the client side. Belfiore didn’t spell out exact details about what these enhanced mobile device management capabilities will be, so we’ll update this section as more information is revealed.

Improved deployment options: Belfiore mentioned improved mobile device management and deployment options in the same sentence, and it’s clear that Microsoft is bending over backwards to streamline and optimize the deployment of Windows 8.1 into the enterprise. It’s been widely reported here and elsewhere that Windows 8 adoption in the enterprise is lagging, so anything Microsoft can do to make deployment easier for IT management should help their case.

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So will all of the new features in Windows 8.1 Update finally get you to take the plunge and embrace Windows 8? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email or touch base with me on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook (see below).

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  • Hank Shank

    Bring back the Start Menu, and you may have something. Without the Start Menu, you’re just spinning your wheels.

  • Hank Shank

    Bring back the Start Menu, and you may have something. Without the Start Menu, you’re just spinning your wheels.

  • http://www.petri.com Jeff James

    No arguments there. I’m wondering how many updates it will take for Microsoft to eventually bring that back…

  • Ajay Kulsh

    Any improvement in Backup feature? Win8 had Win7’s image backup which was so much better than one-time backup in Win8.1.

  • Ajay Kulsh

    Any improvement in Backup feature? Win8 had Win7’s image backup which was so much better than one-time backup in Win8.1.

  • cul heath

    I still haven’t figured out what MS was trying to accomplish by the FORCE FEED of the metro aspect. I understand the push to mobile, but why the adamant refusal to allow boot to desktop choice for so long?

  • http://www.petri.com Jeff James

    Hey Cul – That’s a great question, and I’m sure Microsoft — in hindsight — wishes they had taken a different direction. As for booting direct to desktop in Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2, you can do that now — it’s just not enabled by default. We have an article on how to do that here: http://www.petri.com/bypass-start-screen-windows-8-1-server-2012-r2.htm

  • http://www.petri.com Jeff James

    Hey Cul – That’s a great question, and I’m sure Microsoft — in hindsight — wishes they had taken a different direction. As for booting direct to desktop in Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2, you can do that now — it’s just not enabled by default. We have an article on how to do that here: http://www.petri.com/bypass-start-screen-windows-8-1-server-2012-r2.htm

  • http://www.petri.com Jeff James

    Don’t have an answer to that yet, Ajay, but I’ll do some research and update the article when we have more current info.

  • Lee

    I see these ‘updates’ are effectively making Windows 8 more like Windows 7. From a SMB point of view, there are also still too many compatibility issues with many widely used editions of non-MS software (e.g. AutoCAD) that required these to be upgraded alongside the OS – at a cost.
    It’s good that MS are trying to address the fact many web apps do not function properly (or at all) in IE11, but the risk of our users hitting such barriers in their day to day work, then having to workaround by installing other browsers is just another barrier.
    To top it off there is also the new UI learning curve for users who ‘just want Windows to work’.
    I think an upgrade to Windows 8 for many enterprises maybe a while away.

  • Lee

    I see these ‘updates’ are effectively making Windows 8 more like Windows 7. From a SMB point of view, there are also still too many compatibility issues with many widely used editions of non-MS software (e.g. AutoCAD) that required these to be upgraded alongside the OS – at a cost.
    It’s good that MS are trying to address the fact many web apps do not function properly (or at all) in IE11, but the risk of our users hitting such barriers in their day to day work, then having to workaround by installing other browsers is just another barrier.
    To top it off there is also the new UI learning curve for users who ‘just want Windows to work’.
    I think an upgrade to Windows 8 for many enterprises maybe a while away.

  • http://www.petri.com Jeff James

    Great feedback, Lee. I’m also curious to see if the new IE11 ‘enterprise mode’ will make a difference with web app compatibility.

  • Craig

    I personally don’t understand the “No Start Menu” argument. I consider the Metro interface as full screen Start Menu that you can customise to only contain your frequently used programs.
    The Start Menu of old contained countless applications that never get used. Sure you could delete them to “Customise” your Start Menu but once you do you cannot easily find those application shortcuts again. Unlike what we have now in Windows 8.1 where you can customise your Metro screen but still access an “All Programs” view if you want.
    I’m a Windows Admin and am all for the Metro screen.

  • Philhare

    You state the updates that were in windows 8.1 not 8.1 update 1

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  • Jim Osborne

    If Windows 8 were a onion it would make your eyes water so bad you could not see what you were doing. I do not know which is worse. Microsoft operating systems or Microsoft stealing my privacy. Either way, screwing the public is Microsoft’s core business.

  • Bryan Manx

    Microsoft is stealing far less privacy than google. In fact the info that the govt gets from Microsoft they have to pay for and its totally non-aggregated junk. Google on the other hand packages up nice user human profiles that the govt can you to put people into nice little boxes and relate subversives to each other.

  • Jim Osborne

    Need I suggest, stealing is in fact stealing. I know Google and Twitter make a bundle from selling yours and my privacy. It is a disgrace America has to come to this. Now we have a bunch of punks making billions because of government sponsorship. To my reckoning we are a road straight to hell. You cannot have a functioning democracy given this kind of behavior.

  • cr_buck

    The only issue in most cases for legacy software compatibility is adjusting the app compatibility in most cases. The biggest problem with compatibility is going from 32-bit to 64-bit. There are many programs I have been able to working on Windows 7 or 8 after bypassing their built in os compatibility check. I’m not saying all but most.

    As for IE, I would hate to be in Microsoft’s position. They have to update IE to make it more standards compliant but many developers put in tweaks that just see IE and run code across the board interfering with IE11. If they leave the original browser agent, then the code will run. If they change the name of IE for a clean break, people will get confused as to what it is. The browser agent string, although problematic, seems to me to be the lesser of the evils to move forward.

    A big issue with a lot of businesses is they don’t want to spend money, only charge. I can’t even remember how many businesses I have dealt with now assisting where they didn’t way to pay me because they felt my services should be free but a 5 minute consultation with them constitutes an hour visit and bill goes to collections nearly the day after the due date while they don’t pay me for 6 months. They don’t want to buy antivirus, don’t way to update security, don’t want to pay for support, don’t want to get hacked, and want things to work for years and years without paying any more fees. I’ve seen customers bringing in millions complain about spending $2,000 to upgrade antivirus for 100 systems asking why they have to pay each year for it thinking once you buy it, it should be update indefinitely. I’m not saying that is your case, just my observation from customers. I find myself having the conversation a lot to communicate that I understand they want to keep costs down to maximize profits but sometimes maximizing profits means spending money. No unlike when they spend more money on a better, more reliable employee.

    As for the it just works idea, I wish it would work but I fear it will never fully happen. The problem is because no matter what you do to the software, people still just are inconsistent. Individual people can’t figure each other out and yet they can adapt. I think AI improvements will help but then I can see us actually arguing with our computers instead of just cussing at them. Some people say the iPad just works but ask a new person how to put an apostrophe in a sentence or switch apps, close apps, or remove apps. Once you know it, it is easy but knowing it ahead of time is the hard part.
    I can just see it now as computers get smarter, we will just find new ways to be upset with them more like regular people. :-)

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  • http://dinoraptor101.com/ Dinoraptor101

    Start menu is old and crappy it’s complicated…. MS announced to be releasing that option soon along with making Apps operational in windowed mode inside the desktop!.
    Update 1 also auto loads the desktop now. which increases boost time by the way.

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