As of today, Windows XP is retired. So, it seems fitting that Microsoft chose the same day to roll-out a huge update to its current flagship OS, Windows 8. Simply called "Windows 8.1 Update", this ~800MB patch aims to vastly improve usability for keyboard+mouse users, as well as enhance other parts of the OS to make the entire experience that much more enjoyable. With 8.1, Microsoft hoped to lure some Windows 8 opposers in, and with 8.1 Update, it's hoping to eke more success out of that.
Given the KB+M enhancements, it might just do that. For starters, proper context menus now appear when a tile inside the Start screen is right-clicked; this is far more sensible than requiring the user to move their mouse all the way to the bottom of the screen to choose some option (countering that, that behavior is fine for touchscreen users, and so it remains).
Sometimes, a simple addition can feel major; a great example of this is the addition of power and search icons at the top-right of the Start screen. Windows 8.1 brought the ability to right-click the bottom left-hand corner of the screen to access a slightly quicker way to shutdown or restart Windows, but having a button right here is even better - and long overdue.
The addition of a search icon is nice for those who didn't realize that you can "just type", but it's a little disappointing to see that the search enhancements end there (or seem to). For some reason, typing in "Internet Explorer", for me, does not yield a result for the browser. I find this a little bizarre, especially since "iexplore" does bring the app up as a result.
Another overdue feature is the ability to pin Windows 8 apps to the taskbar:
Clicking on the Windows Store icon, which is put there by default in 8.1 Update, you'll quickly notice that apps have also been enhanced. When moving your mouse to the top-right corner, you'll see a nice titlebar, and also minimize / close buttons.
In addition to being able to pin an app to the taskbar, some will gain some functionality when right-clicked. One example is with the default "Music" app; pinning it and then right-clicking will allow you to skip songs, pause, play, and so forth. At that point, I'm not sure why someone wouldn't simply use a dedicated app, but it's nice to have the option nonetheless.
As you can probably see, 8.1 Update is well-worth downloading, and chances are, simply using it will clue you into other enhancements that are not so obvious at first. One thing I did notice is that when going into the Start screen, the taskbar slides down, rather than simply disappear; it's a simple, but neat effect.
To grab the update, simply go to the "Update and recovery" section of the "Change PC Settings" app. Otherwise, you'll automatically be updated shortly, assuming you haven't turned off automatic updates.
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