Windows 8.1 Set For Launch October 18th, What You Need to Know

With the release of Windows 8.1 (coming as a free update) just around the corner (October 18th, to be exact), you may be wondering A) whether it's worth upgrading to and B) why that's the case. Well, as someone who's been rocking the 8.1 Preview release for a couple of months, I can say with assurance that it's well-worth upgrading to - if you happen to dig Windows 8 in general, that is. If you're not a fan of Microsoft's direction with the OS, there's little about 8.1 that's going change your mind. It's worth noting though that you can install a Start Menu replacement in 8.1 just as you can with 8.0.

A couple of months ago, I penned an article that took a look at 8.1's biggest features, and surprisingly, that was just the start of things: more features trickled out afterwards. In this post, I'll talk about a couple of the key features that make 8.1 worth it, but note that there are more, and possibly some features we don't even know about yet.

Improved Start Screen: While it's still no Start Menu, the enhancements Microsoft brings to 8.1 Start Screen-wise is hugely appreciated. For starters, you can make the background transparent, revealing your desktop wallpaper, and you can also name your groups, have greater control over tile size, gain much greater flexibility when choosing a color scheme if you stick to the vector wallpapers, and the search... "improved" is an understatement.

Windows 8.1 - Start Screen

Help & Tips: Something that should have launched with Windows 8 is a tutorial to teach people how to make the most of the OS - it was actually rather appalling to see this lacking given the major design shift Microsoft forced on those wanting to use the latest version of Windows. It's been fixed in 8.1, though, with videos to help you master not only the Start Screen, but some other parts of the OS as well. Who knows - even the Windows 8 veteran might stand to learn something.

Native 3D Printing: 3D printing still isn't "mainstream" by any standard, but it's definitely on its way there, and Microsoft proves it by implementing a native 3D printing environment inside of Windows 8.1. As we discovered last week, printing a 3D object is pretty standard fare, not much different than printing a piece of paper. I think Microsoft deserves some kudos for wasting no time in implementing this feature.

Improved 4K and Multi-Monitor Support: Windows 8 works just fine on 4K displays, but 8.1 will improve the flexibility - namely, it'll add an easy-to-access 200% DPI option, which will scale fonts to more comfortable levels on the massive resolution. On the multi-monitor front, per-display DPI settings is also being introduced, a rather major feature for those whose monitors are of different sizes.

SkyDrive Improvements: Windows 8 had some SkyDrive support, but 8.1 amplifies it, with automatic syncing and the ability to upload your photos at a different quality than the original. Courts recently ruled that Microsoft has to change the name of SkyDrive (thanks to BSkyB owning the rights to the name), but whenever the name update comes along, the functionality will remain the same. I don't personally use SkyDrive, but I'd be lying if I said the Windows integration didn't make me consider it.

Windows 8.1 - Improved Search

General Enhancements: There's quite a laundry list of various improvements coming to Windows 8.1. Boot-to-desktop is going to be appreciated by some, as will the general refinement of the "PC settings" screen. One feature I greatly appreciate is the ability to right-click the bottom left-hand corner, and then choose to shut down or restart right there. That's in no way as attractive as the Start menu solution of old, but it's much quicker than hitting-up the Charms bar to take care of it.

Windows 8.1 - Shutdown Shortcut

In addition, a lot of the bundled apps will be updated, although most of them weren't in the Preview release. Chances are good that when the 8.1 final gets here, we're going to be immediately discovering other improvements we weren't expecting. We've already learned quite a bit since the Preview release, so it's going to be fun to see what else will be discovered post-launch.

Above, I mentioned that I've been using 8.1 since the Preview came out, but this weekend, I reformatted and put 8 on (because I didn't want to use a "Preview" for a fresh install), and already I'm missing some of 8.1's features. Actually, I'm missing them a lot. October 18th sure can't get here quick enough.