Opening up Windows 8.1

A screenshot of Windows 8.1 (image: Charlie Fripp

Microsoft this week announced the availability of the update to its Windows 8 operating system and users who download Windows 8.1 will immediately notice a number of changes. All that users have to do is visit the Windows Store and the update should be available – if not, there is the option to browse over to Microsoft’s Windows 8 website and manually start the process.

A screenshot of Windows 8.1 (image: Charlie Fripp
A screenshot of Windows 8.1 (Image source: Charlie Fripp)

“If all else fails, we will be making the ISO file available at stores like Incredible Connection for a free distribution, but downloading it will be the primary way of getting the 8.1 update. But users need to prepare themselves as the download is about 3GB in size,” said Microsoft’s Colin Erasmus.

Erasmus added that personalisation and location of the apps in the previous version were key drivers behind changes in 8.1. “A big question from users was ‘where were their apps were once they installed something?’ So with 8.1 we have added a function that will show users their apps that have been installed and will still be able to pin them to their home screen.”

The biggest or most exciting change in 8.1 is the return of the Start button in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. While Erasmus stopped short of calling the removal of the button a mistake by Microsoft, he said that a lot of consumers have asked for its return.

“The Start button is back in the corner, which centres on the new navigation experience. A lot of users have been asking for it, and we think that they were getting lost in the desktop in Windows 8, so we decided to add that function again.”

Erasmus also said that Microsoft added an option to the Start button that will allow users to boot straight into the desktop, or into the Metro-style tiles. “It really depends on what you do as that will determine if you want to boot into the desktop or elsewhere.” Responding to a question, Erasmus said that Microsoft could not say where users spend most of their time in terms of desktop preference.

Another change that Windows 8.1 brings is the ability to resize tiles – in the past it was limited to only two sizes. For users who make use of a custom desktop wallpaper, they will be delight to learn that users will now be able to keep the same desktop image between the desktop and the tile menu.

Users who engage the search functionality will now be able to expand their queries to cover a larger base with the introduction of Smart Search. Not only will users receive search information from more South African websites (which is powered by Bing), they will also be able to personalise from what sources information is drawn.

During the media briefing, Erasmus also showed off the gesture-based navigation which makes it easier to browse books or recipes.

“What we have also done, is improve the multitasking as users will now be able to place four different screens next to each other which can also be resized, as well as move screens onto a second monitor if it is supported by the monitor’s screen resolution,” he added.

Other highlights of Windows 8.1 include the ability to synch different devices to have the same desktop by simply logging into the relevant Microsoft account; enterprises will be able to set permissions for individual users in terms of accessing apps; and an improved User Interface for Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage service.

In terms of apps in the Microsoft app store, Erasmus said that users can expect a lot of South African apps in the future.

“The app store has just over 100 000 apps at the moment. We have seen a lot of consumer apps, but also some Business apps and have seen that in a big way. Microsoft is starting to gain a lot of understanding on apps, and you’ll see a lot of SA apps in the search options,” he concluded.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor