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May 30, 2013

Microsoft to Bring Start Button Back to Life in Windows 8.1

Preview Version to Launch June 26

It’s official. Microsoft is resurrecting the Start button in Windows 8.1, the first update since the software giant released the much-criticized Windows 8 last fall.

The Start menu, however, has been left out of the update.

Microsoft has taken a lot of flack since it released Windows 8 last October. The operating system, which has a tablet-focused Start screen and a PC-oriented desktop screen, has been a source of confusion for many users. A number of the changes in the software appeared to be geared more to tablet and Smartphone users than PC users.

Windows 8.1 is an attempt to respond to customer feedback while adding new features and functionality.

“Windows 8.1 will deliver improvements and enhancements in key areas like personalization, search, the built-in apps, Windows Store experience, and cloud connectivity,” said Windows Corporate vice-president Antoine Leblond in a blog post. “Windows 8.1 will also include big bets for business in areas such as management and security — we’ll have more to say on these next week at TechEd North America.”

The preview of Windows 8.1 will launch June 26 at Build, Microsoft’s developer conference, and the final version will be available later this year.

Changes to the operating system include:

Personalization

Windows 8.1 will enable users to customize their experience. For instance, the update offers more colors and backgrounds, some of which include motion, for the Start screen.

Microsoft image

Microsoft image

The Start screen features various tile sizes including a new large and new small tile so the screen can be organized to suit the user. Apps can be selected all at once to resize, uninstall or rearrange. Apps can now be filtered by name, date installed, most used, or by category.

“You want the Start screen to be about all the things you love,” Leblond said. “So when you install a new app from the Windows Store, we no longer put that app on your Start screen. Instead, you’ll find these apps under apps view as mentioned above and marked as “new” where you can choose to pin the apps you want to your Start screen.”

Users can also turn their device into a picture frame by making the Lock screen a slide show of the photographs stored on the device or on SkyDrive. Users can now also take pictures from the Lock screen without having to log in.

Search

Search will provide global search results powered by Bing “in a rich, simple-to-read, aggregated view of many content sources (the web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions you can take) to provide the best answer for your query,” Leblond said. “We think this will really change the way you interact with the Web and with windows making it quicker and easier to get things done.”

Apps and Windows Store

All apps packaged with Windows 8.1 have received a makeover. For instance, the Music app has been reworked to aid users in choosing what to play from their music collections. The update also includes improvements for using multiple apps at the same time.

Microsoft image

Microsoft image

Users also have more options to view multiple apps on screen at the same time by resizing apps or sharing the screen between two apps.

“You can have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time and the Start Screen can stay open on one monitor,” Leblond said. “This makes multi-tasking even easier. Also in Windows 8.1, you can have multiple windows of the same app snapped together – such as two Internet Explorer windows.”

Windows 8.1 is also heavier on displaying info with detailed lists of top free apps, new releases, and picks on the user’s homepage. The app listing also includes an area for related apps to aid in app discovery.

App updates install automatically and search is available in the upper right hand corner to search for a particular app.

Microsoft image

Microsoft image

Cloud Connectivity

Files can be saved directly to SkyDrive in 8.1 and the new SkyDrive app offers access to files on the user’s device or in the cloud.

Files are accessible online or offline.

By logging in to a Microsoft account in Windows 8.1, the device personalizes it with the user’s settings and apps to make switching to a new device easier.

PC Settings

The updated PC Settings in Windows 8.1 gives users access to all settings on their devices without having to go to Control Panel. Users can now change display resolution, set power options and change the product key, to name a few options, from PC Settings. Users can also manage SkyDrive from PC Settings and see how much storage is available.

Internet Explorer

Windows 8.1 includes Internet Explorer 11 (IE11), which, LeBlond said, “offers even better touch performance, faster page load times and several other new features we think you will enjoy.”

Mouse and Keyboard Options

Microsoft has improved the way users “navigate to Start with the mouse by changing the Start ‘tip’ to be the familiar Windows logo. The new tip appears anytime you move the mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen, and is always visible on the taskbar when on the desktop.”

Users also can change what the corners do and have the option to boot into alternate screens. For instance, users can opt to have the Start screen go directly to Apps view.

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