Technologizer

Microsoft Previews Windows 8.1′s Changes (Yes, the Start Button Is Back — Sort of)

The first major Windows 8 update is mostly focused on refinements to the operating system's radically new interface.

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Windows 8.1's changes include more flexible juggling of multiple on-screen apps and the return, more or less, of the Start button

On June 26th, Microsoft is releasing a preview version of Windows 8.1 code-named “Windows Blue” — the first meaningful update to Windows 8. In a blog post today, the company is publishing brief details on the new version’s changes, which it shared with me in advance.

There’s no way to talk about them without beginning with one particular tweak. For many people, the symbol of how radically different Windows 8 was from its predecessors was its elimination of Windows’ Start button and Start menu, perhaps the operating system’s most iconic features. If you were skittish about major change, their absence served as a convenient excuse to postpone even thinking about upgrading.

In Windows 8.1, the Start button is back, more or less. If you’re in Desktop mode — the part of Windows 8.1 which looks and works like classic Windows — the Taskbar will sport a Windows logo where the Start button has lived since the Windows 95 days. And if you’re on the newfangled Start screen, shoving the mouse pointer down to the lower left-hand corner will also cause the Windows logo to appear.

But: Microsoft isn’t completely rolling back Windows 8′s removal of the old approach to Start. Judging from the blog post, pressing the new pseudo-Start button won’t get you an old-style Start menu. Instead, you’ll still be shuttled to the full-screen, formerly-known-as-Metro Start screen, which means that it’s impossible to live entirely inside Desktop mode and pretend that Microsoft didn’t make major changes to the Windows interface. That makes the return of the Start button more of a minor visual adjustment than anything.

As my colleague Doug Aamoth reported yesterday, Windows superblogger Paul Thurrott had the scoop on these changes in a post on Wednesday. Thurrott also said that Windows 8.1 would allow users to boot their PCs directly into Desktop mode, bypassing the Start screen. Microsoft’s blog post doesn’t explicitly promise that option, but does make a vaguer reference to the ability to boot into things other than the Start screen. Here’s hoping.

What else is new in Windows 8.1? Quite a bit, it sounds like. For me, the most intriguing changes involve Snap mode, which until now has permitted you to tuck a simplified version of a Windows 8 app to one side of the primary app you’re using. Now you’ll be able to resize the windows, to put three apps on screen at once and to work with two on-screen instances of one app (such as two Internet Explorer windows).

Another much-needed fix: There’s now a full-featured Windows 8 PC Settings feature, so you don’t need to hop between PC Settings and the old-style Control Panel to get to all of the operating system’s configuration and customization options.

The Start screen has a new Apps view that shows all your installed programs, letting you reserve the primary view for only your favorites. (That reminds me of Windows Phone’s and Android’s approaches.) There are more sizes of tiles for the Start screen, and you can dress it up with custom wallpaper.

The search feature is now a universal search feature: it returns files, apps, Bing web results and more. New web stuff includes Internet Explorer 11, deeper integration of Microsoft’s SkyDrive storage and the ability to log into any Windows 8.1 machine with your Microsoft account and get all your settings.

There’s more, but there’s only so much you can understand about an operating-system upgrade by perusing a features list. In a little less than a month, anyone who’s interested will be able to try Windows 8.1 for himself or herself, for free.

Current Windows 8 users will likely be happy to get it, but the big question about Windows 8.1 is whether it’ll convince folks who have actively avoided Windows 8 to give it a try. Can it make Windows 8 doubters into Windows 8.1 believers?

On first blush, it seems like there’s a good chance that it will appeal to those who have been intrigued but wanted to wait for Microsoft’s first major polish on all its new ideas. But the company, it seems, is only going to go so far to cater to hardcore Windows 8 skeptics. They can have their Start button back, but otherwise, the company is still focusing on trying to make the new way of doing things attractive.

I wouldn’t count on that approach promptly quashing the general sense of uncertainty surrounding Windows 8, but it’s probably good for Windows’ long game. If you were paying attention, it should have been obvious all along that Microsoft was never going to convince the planet to upgrade to this strikingly new take on Windows in one fell swoop. Windows 8.1 is a necessary second swoop — and it may take several more before the transition feels even halfway complete.

21 comments
Qzma
Qzma

Start button or old style Start menu in Windows 8 would be the dumbest thing of the year. Nonsense. Why in the name of the Brain one needs it?

deadlau5
deadlau5

the only issue I really have with 8 is with a laptop touchpad. Some built in mouse touchpads on laptops just dont work well with 8. I bought a seperate usb mouse, and found its actually faster and easier to use with a keyboard and scroll mouse than touching any screen. I dont want to have to go up to any desktop to touch it every 5 seconds, and I dont sit that close to any screen. Im sure 8 would be good on a  though. Some hate the design of 8. microsoft is using swiss style, an art style which has been around for decades. An aquired taste perhaps. The real question mark is with ms deciding to have apps instead of gadgets, and (initially) booting to an apps menu, which just looks like a screen of adware, with apps or shortcuts to app software you would not normally use, likely screaming at you to purchase from mainstream developers. A bad move. I think windows store is awful so far, as you cant reply to other users reviews, and primarily-the number of free indie apps are very small (especially games, which is surely the real key to the stores success). There is plenty of time to update 8 (renaming it windows 9,10,11 etc in future no doubt.. $), but its obvious that when 8 and the store were released, they were a very basic and arguably unfinished product.

VerbSystems
VerbSystems

Nope...  still sucks...  It's easy guys and gals...  if you want to smooth the public into something, MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE AT first.  "Forcing us into this foolishness makes us use 3rd part software to help us transition (or NOT) makes the whole experience seriously clunky.

So wait...  are we to assume that Microsoft is banking on Balmers public relations strategy and vision for technology??  Have you SEEN that guy talk to the public? Have you HEARD all of statement regarding Apple's "failures"??  

It was time to resign a long time ago Balmer.  Take the money and RUN!!  Otherwise, you may end up running whether you choose to or not...

gracefulali07
gracefulali07

windows 8 had great functionalities and its easy to use, this is purely designed to use with touch interface thats why it feels some odd while if you are using it thorugh old system who had mouse and keyboard as their input device

deanvu3
deanvu3

they couldn't even put the real start menu. they think that they did some real job in Windows 81. They are dreaming windows 8 requires 60% work to fix the real issues. First remove that start screen completely-return and improve real start menu with new interface-make real gaming graphics for gamers not playing graphics- improve general Windows 8 interface - similar to Windows 7/XP/vista, but improve it make it better with beatufil interface color UI-Improve Control Panel interface and make it better more organized-improve desktop general including Icons on desktop needs to change and improve-icons haven't been updated on desktop since windows xp. This is just some issues which require serious work. Microsoft is doing what nobody wants. If they screw Windows 9 Ms is gone, nobody will buy their OS anymore. Windows 8.1 did just maybe 5% of work. Still requires huge work to win over the market..

olibearbrand
olibearbrand

All the features I felt Windows 8 should have! And more importantly, the Unified Search! Idgaf 'bout the start menu, I've already managed to live without it. About the issue regarding compatibility, people who know nothing (in W8) just hop into that compatibility issue bandwagon. I mean I never met a scenario wherein my games won't work with my Windows 8 system, even Hangaroo works fine in mine...

AgostoNuñez
AgostoNuñez

If they will create a cheap low-end Tablet-P.C. with Windows 8 (NOT WINDOWS R.T.) I'd buy it, I'll buy it the day it's in the store.

That aside, I love Windows 8 and I'll admit that there were A LOT of errors made on introducing new services, this was mostly because Microsoft has freshly fused Windows & Windows Live into one Cloud-ecosystem, the mail app looked like ''a(n() (fake)) Outlook.com clone made on a Potato'', while it still does, it has Gmail and IMAP support now, most of the (FORMER-)Windows Live-based tiles give this impression, this was bound to happen, Microsoft received feedback on this and suggestions, they listened and are now improving on this part.

Microsoft has made 1 ecosystem with Windows 8 out of SO MANY components that it was found to fail, with or without the Windows RunTime graphical user interface, this only hastened the backlash, Windows 8.1 (Blue) is improving upon the consumer feedback, similar to how Microsoft updates the Windows Essentials every year, it's called keeping up pace and moving along (or even ahead in this case), Microsoft showed with Windows 8 that they do EVERYTHING the competion does, and they'll make it successful with the improvements.

MonicaHammondScheppe
MonicaHammondScheppe

Well I got widows 8 with my new computer and hated it. So I installed Virtual Box with Windows XP and Now I'm happy living in an environment that I understand.

StevenEaly
StevenEaly like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Dear Microsoft,

You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig.

stevek77536
stevek77536

I imagine MS working meetings to be like those of the US Congress.  100% of the agenda is attacking the other side.  

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Windows 8.1? If they're bringing the Start menu back, shouldn't this release be called Windows 7.9?

LurkingGrue
LurkingGrue like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

 Call me when they stop pushing full screen software.  Using metro is tying both hands behind my back in terms of productivity.    I don't want full screen weather widgets.

therealdude
therealdude like.author.displayName 1 Like

@LurkingGrue  You perfectly summed up my unhappiness with Windows 8. I can't stand going to a full screen menu every time I want to do something simple like launch another program. No matter how many weather widgets or whatever else they throw up there, that will always be a pain. It's also the reason I never, ever use any of their other apps--the first thing you launch them, full screen and everything you were doing disappears. It makes you feel like you can only do one thing at a time--like I'm using DOS 3.0 all over again.

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

It probably won't please you altogether, but the changes to Snap view in 8.1 are a move away from full-screenedness, as it were. I think it's possible that Microsoft's long-term plan is to give Metro a true windowing interface more akin to classic Windows, but in a more touch-friendly way.

therealdude
therealdude

@harrymccracken That's probably the direction they're heading given the cold reception Windows 8 has received. I believe the full screen apps and start menu are what people really hate about Windows 8. I downloaded Poki (the app that re-integrates the old-style start menu), and since I've only been to full screen Metro start less than three times. If Poki can give me that option then why can't MS add it and let me decide how I want to use Windows?

AgostoNuñez
AgostoNuñez

@harrymccracken Well, I have had Windows 8 for 6 months now without touch-screen and I never felt that it was unfriendly for mice and keyboards, half-screen applications/programs would also make it easier for non-touch people like myself. I personally prefer my right-mouse clicks on ''holding your finger'', I'd rather say that Windows 8 is more suited for Mouse & Keyboard-users.

Also, ''Metro'' is actually called Windows RunTime, which is why the RunTime enviroment is the ONLY enviroment in Windows R.T.

GlenCJackson
GlenCJackson like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I don't care about the start button or any of the so called new changes to windows 8. I care about the incompatibility issue that windows 8 seems to have with all my games.  Get that fixed and I'll be a satisfied customer.  What were you boyz and gurlz down at Microsoft thinking when you brought out this new operating system???? I mean really?

AgostoNuñez
AgostoNuñez

@GlenCJackson I still play Microsoft Age Of Empires for Windows 95 on my Windows 8 P.C. ¿what problems do you have with games? I have none.

copier111
copier111

What games are you playing? I haven't had one issue yet with any of my games on w8.