Microsoft introduced the latest Windows 8.1 operating system during its BUILD conference 2013 in San Francisco on Wednesday. Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Preview promised a "rapid release" date and showcased the latest features, but will they be enough to move users away from Windows 7? Windows 7 was well-received, as opposed to Microsoft's Windows 8 update. Many users complained about the Windows 8 operating system due to its lack of a start button, the RT and Pro split and so on. The Windows 8.1 update appears to come as a result of these complaints as well as the declining rate in PC sales. While users will not see a return to the Windows 7 interface, there are some notable changes to the Windows 8.1 operating system, appeasing many Windows 8 frustrations.
Start Button Menu
Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 8 Start button menu: While the actual change isn't huge, this Windows 8.1 update clearly proves that Microsoft took customer feedback into consideration when developing the operating system upgrade. One of the most common grievances with the Windows 8 release was the loss of the Start button. With Windows 8.1, users can celebrate its return. A four-paned Windows icon in the bottom left-hand corner of the Desktop screen allows users to select the Start button, which in turn gives them access to several standard operating options. These include Task Manager, Control Panel, Programs and Features, and more. What's more, Windows 8.1 users will be able to shut down their device through the Start button menu as well.
Boot to Desktop
Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 8 boot to desktop: The Windows 8 interface utilized live tiles and a touch-friendly interface on its home screen, but not all users favored this UI. With the Windows 8.1 update, users can open directly in Desktop mode, bypassing the Metro-fied Start screen.
Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 8 search: The Windows 8 Search feature let users search for files, settings or apps. With the latest Windows 8.1 Search charm, which is powered by Bing, users can search on the Web as well as files, settings and apps. Windows 8.1 search will display all the results horizontally.
Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 8 customization: Right off the bat, Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 differ in appearance. Windows 8.1 ditches the static abstract images offered in Windows 8, Ars Technica reports, and includes several subtle animations. Microsoft's Windows 8 introduced the latest user interface, with updated tiles in hopes of becoming touchscreen friendly. It was not well-received. While the operating system update doesn't take users back to the Windows 7 interface, Windows 8.1 allows users to personalize both the Start screen and lock screens, adding their own style to desktops and tablets. The Windows 8.1 update has more color options for backgrounds and more tile sizes. Windows 8.1 users can also create a slideshow with personal photos to display on the lock screen.
Xbox Music App
Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 8 Xbox Music app: Xbox Music in Windows 8 allowed users to stream free music from a library of over 30 million songs, CNet reports. The update in the Windows 8.1 Xbox Music app includes a redesign that makes it easier to navigate the interface. Similar to Pandora and Spotify stations, the Windows 8.1 updated Xbox Music app lets users create intuitive radio stations based on selected artists. Overall, the Windows 8.1 Xbox Music app interface is much more user-friendly than the Windows 8 Xbox Music app.
Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 8 Snap mode: Yes, many users complained about the updated Windows 8 interface upon its release, but it wasn't all bad. A popular Windows 8 feature included the ability to open multiple apps at the same time, known as Snap mode. Microsoft plans on fine-tuning Snap mode features in the Windows 8.1 update, allowing users to divide the screen into more than just 25 percent increments. This updated feature in Windows 8.1 shows Microsoft's commitment to listen to Windows 8 criticism and design a more personalized operating system experience.
Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 8 camera app: The Windows 8 camera app only allowed users to crop photos. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft Windows is giving users several improved features in the camera app. Windows 8.1's camera app includes photo-editing tools to enhance color, adjust brightness and contrast, and red-eye, and even pick from six different filters, mirroring the popularity of Instagram.
Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 8 apps: The major focus Microsoft had when updating the Windows 8 operating system was to develop an interface that is touchscreen friendly. This growth towards touch-friendly design coincides greatly with the trend towards touch-friendly apps. It comes as no surprise then that the Windows 8.1 update has significantly more new, built-in apps than Windows 8. These include the following apps: Alarm, Calculator, Sound Recorder, Camera (as discussed above), Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, Reading List, Photos App and SkyDrive. Microsoft's app improvements to the Windows 8 operating system will make for a much more pleasant experience on touchscreen PCs.
Will users' qualms be quieted with the Windows 8.1 update? It is apparent that Microsoft made changes that line up with Windows 8 frustrations, developing an interface that is both utilitarian and individualize. It is not clear whether the Windows 8.1 update will completely satisfy unhappy Windows 8 users, but it's definitely a vast improvement.
Microsoft has made the Windows 8.1 Preview available to download online. Users running on Windows 8 can install Windows 8.1 without affecting apps and settings. Extreme Tech notes that the final version of Windows 8.1 will be available this fall, and will be free to Windows 8 users.
The 2013 Microsoft BUILD Conference in San Francisco continues through Friday. For those not able to snag a ticket, Microsoft's Channel 9 site will be live streaming the second day keynote. Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer introduced the Windows 8.1 Preview on Wednesday, and Day 2 of the BUILD Conference is scheduled to discuss Windows Server 8, Windows Azure and Visual Studio 2012, among other things.
What do you think about the Windows 8.1 update compared to Windows 8?