It’s no secret that Windows 8 hasn’t exactly captured the hearts and minds of the public at large, but when word leaked that Microsoft was working on a rejiggered version of its newest operating system called Windows 8.1, it was a sign that Microsoft might be able to fix what consumers and businesses dislike and jumpstart sales.
Although the finished version of Windows 8.1 won’t arrive until later this year, Microsoft has a preview version ready to go, which you can download here. If you want to take a 90-second tour, here’s a visually stimulating video:
Windows 8.1 certainly looks pretty, and Microsoft did indeed bring back a version of the Start button when in Desktop mode (that seems to simply pull up the Start screen). As MS said, other features include more size options for Live Tiles, and you can see that you can have as many as four tasks open in the same window at the same time, which is a terrifically handy tool.
The Search function now searches deeper, including across your computer, its apps, and the web, and the Windows Store got a little facelift designed to make it easier to find what you’re looking for. There’s more in the way of saving directly to SkyDrive, and Windows 8.1 is designed to show all your SkyDrive files from all your devices in one place, so it feels like they’re present on each device.
Microsoft also tweaked the PC Settings to let users pull things up faster, and they updated the built-in browser to Internet Explorer 11, which purports to offer better touch performance than IE 10.
For businesses, Windows 8.1 brings “several built-in VPN clients”, composite drives in Windows To Go (so the USB drive can both act as storage and also keep a secure certificate on board to protect the drive), broadband tethering, the ability to boot straight to the desktop, the ability for a company to manage custom Start screens, and enhanced BYOD features and enterprise-grade security.
It’s good that Microsoft recognized the need to polish up Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 looks like it will bring some welcome adjustments, but Microsoft is at the bottom of a hill here. It will be interesting to see if the updates are good enough to persuade more individual users and businesses to make the move to Windows 8--er, make that Windows 8.1.