Microsoft Details Windows 8.1 Features, Start Button Returns Without Start Menu As We Knew It

Many have been quite vocal about the fact that Windows 8 and Windows RT could use a little work, and apparently Microsoft agrees, which is why the company is planning a major update to both versions of its new OS. Windows 8.1 is coming sometime this year as a free update, and for those hoping that it will fix all of Windows 8’s problems (perceived and real), today’s sneak peek from Microsoft has been a long-awaited one.

It looks as though most of the updates are essentially UI tweaks, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although those hoping for something more substantial may be left unsatisfied.

Windows 8.1

First, though, is the feature everyone seems to be preoccupied with: the Start button. Why Microsoft opted to exclude it from Windows 8 is a mystery, but user outrage convinced the company to bring it back. Indeed, the Start button is returning with Windows 8.1--it will pop up when you point to the lower left corner, and it will reside on the task bar when in desktop mode--but it appears that the Start menu as we knew it will not.

That’s not to say that the Start button doesn’t bring up a menu--it’s just that there’s no indication that the resulting Start menu will be any different than what we’ve seen in Windows 8 so far.

Windows 8.1

Other new features include more personalization options, such as the ability to make your Start screen background a moving slideshow of your photos; the ability to bring up all your apps by swiping up from the bottom of the screen; global search results from the Search charm sorted by source (such as apps, the web, SkyDrive, and so on); UI and navigational tweaks to the Windows Store; and improved multitasking wherein users can adjust their snap views any way they wish and also have two windows of the same app snapped together.

Windows 8.1

Some of the built-in apps have added functionality, including new editing features in Photos and a completely redesigned music app. (Microsoft also says that more updates on built-in apps are coming, as well as some completely new apps.) Users can now save files directly to SkyDrive, and IE11 will be the default web browser instead of IE10.

It sounds like these updates will certainly improve the user experience, but one can’t help but feel as though a lot of this is stuff they should have polished up before they released Windows 8 to begin with. It remains to be seen if these numerous updates will help encourage more people to adopt the new OS.