Clearly stung by the overwhelming criticism orientated towards Windows 8, which appeared to be designed solely with a tablet in mind, Microsoft has been working hard on a new and improved version of the world’s most popular operating system. In response to overwhelming consumer and tech feedback, at the recent Microsoft Build Conference Steve Ballmer introduced the highly anticipated Windows 8.1 preview.
Announcing its release date as October 17th of this year, Ballmer suggests that we can look forward to a modern interface that blends more efficiently with the much loved PC device. In Microsoft’s words “Windows 8.1 advances the vision set forward with Windows 8 to deliver experiences that customers- consumers and businesses – need and expect in the next generation of PC’s, Tablets and other devices. It’s Windows 8, but even better” – Let’s hope so!
Will Windows 8.1 live up to its expectations?
The return of Start Button
It is unlikely that you will have read any press surrounding Windows 8 without the mention of the beloved Start button. After becoming one of the world’s most talked about buttons, Microsoft set to address the issue with 8.1 offering the return of the much missed feature.
Although Microsoft have not reverted completely back to the old days of the Start Menu, it has however introduced the Start Button it back to its rightful place on the taskbar. Windows 8.1 presents a new role for the Start Button, presenting an overlay of your Start Screen on your
desktop. However, perhaps one of the most powerful elements of this feature (and one of the most annoying elements of Windows 8), by right clicking on the Start Button the power menu appears – giving the end user the ability to shut down or restart their device in one simple step,
without the fuss involved in Windows 8.
Your personalised Start Screen
Developed from the Microsoft statement “Your Windows PC or Tablet is an extension of you” Microsoft has taken advice from its market base and offers the end user the ability to arrange their Start Screen the way they like it. With more colours and back grounds (including motion accents) and the capacity to use personal wallpapers, it is evident that Microsoft has taken a strong focus on making the Start Screen personal. In addition, 8.1 throws two more tile sizes into the mix, with the added ability to uninstall and rearrange multiple tiles at once. Plus you can also boot straight to the desktop and bypass the Start Screen completely!
One of the biggest criticisms of Windows 8 is when executing a search, the results that are returned are only those from your specific apps. Bing integration now powers an aggregated search system from the web, your files, SkyDrive and elsewhere.
Open more Windows
Windows 8.1 gives you the ability to multi-task with ease with even more flexibility in what you see on the screen at one time. You now have the aptitude to open up to four apps on the screen at once and change the size of each window. You can also open up additional apps and arrange them side by side. Another criticism of the first Windows 8 release was that an app only ran full screen, frustrating users who are used to referencing data from multiple program at the same time.
In line with keeping your 8.1 homepage personal, Microsoft have removed the endless stream of apps that clutter your start screen. All apps can now be viewed just by swiping your Start Screen and better still any new apps that you download will automatically be place into an app folder marked ‘new’. This way the end user still remains in complete control of how their Start Screen appears by choosing what apps they want pinned to their Start Screen. Perhaps one of the most appealing new features for the end user, is the fact that all apps will be updated automatically, so fingers crossed it’s a goodbye to the days of frequent visits to the Windows Store to find the latest version.
A personal experience across all devices
You will now be able to log in Windows 8.1 with a Microsoft Account, making switching devices simple. By doing this, Microsoft have created a powerful way to keep your life connected across all Windows devices. Your user settings, personalised home page, browser history and favourite websites will move with you and will be easily accessible from anywhere.
Windows for Business
Windows 8 introduced a new modern computing experience to businesses with the intention to help professionals stay connected to their colleagues and clients from anywhere, anytime. Windows 8.1 advances this vision and introduces host of new business features, including;
Workplace Join – A Windows 8 PC was either domain joined or not. If it was a member of the domain, the user could access corporate resources and the IT department could control the PC. Workplace Join allows a middle ground between all or nothing access, allowing a user to work on the device of their choice and still have access to corporate resources.
Work Folders – Work Folders allows a user to sync data to their device from their user folder located on the company servers. Files created locally will sync back to the file server in the corporate environment. With Work Folders, Users can keep local copies of their work files on their devices, with automatic synchronization to your business network, and for access from other devices.
Mobile Device Management – This allows a deeper management experience with existing tools like Windows Intune. IT administrators now have deeper policy management for Windows RT devices, and can manage Windows 8.1 PCs as mobile devices without having deploy a full management client.
Wi-Fi and NFC Printing – Tap your Windows 8.1 device against an enterprise NFC-enabled printer and you’re all set to print. Connect to Wi-Fi Direct printers without adding additional drivers or software on your Windows 8.1 device, forming a peer-to-peer network between your device and the printer.
Wireless Display – Present your work wirelessly with no connection cords needed; just pair with a Miracast-enabled projector via NFC and Miracast will use Wi-Fi to let you project wire-free.
Broadband Tethering – Turn your Windows 8.1 mobile broadband-enabled PC or tablet into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing other devices to connect and access the internet.
Remote Business Data Removal – Corporations now have more control over corporate content which can be marked as corporate, encrypted, and then be wiped when the relationship between the corporation and user has ended.
Improved Internet Explorer – Internet Explorer 11 improvements include faster page load times, side-by-side browsing of your sites, enhanced pinned site notifications, and app settings like favourites, tabs and settings sync across all your Windows 8.1 PCs.
Malware Resistance – Windows Defender, Microsoft’s free antivirus solution in Windows 8, will include network behaviour monitoring to help detect and stop the execution of known and unknown malware.
Device Lockdown – With Assigned Access, a new feature offered in Windows 8.1 RT, Windows 8.1 Pro, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise, you can enable a single Windows Store application experience on the device. This can be things like a learning application for kids in an educational setting or a customer service application at a call centre.
What will the upgrade cost?
Nothing… Nada… Jack… Zip… Zilch.! Windows 8.1 is being released as an update rather than a new product and so there will be no cost. Simply download the update from the Windows Store and install.
Microsoft released the update on the 17th October so if your running version 8 you can download it now from the Store