It's been almost a year since Windows 8 hit the scene, and what a year it's been. After getting off to a super slow start, Windows 8 finally managed to overtake the dead-in-the-water Windows Vista. Sure, it's not much, but baby steps count for something, right? Besides, Microsoft is just getting started with Windows 8, and is launching phase two of its plan today.
Microsoft announced that Windows 8.1 is now available in the Windows Store to all Windows 8 owners out there. This free upgrade brings a number of refinements and new features to the Windows 8 experience that Microsoft hopes will address many of the problems users had with the original release of Windows 8.
If you already own a Windows 8 device, there's no point in not upgrading to Windows 8.1. It's free and it may just make your time with Windows 8 a lot better. What about those who have held off though? Does Windows 8.1 bring anything new to the table? Should you upgrade from Windows 7?
Two common complaints from Windows 7 users regarding Windows 8 both have to do with the tiled Smart screen that Microsoft continually pushes in every Windows 8 ad. It's great for a touch device, but it's not so great for a traditional mouse and keyboard setup. Microsoft has tried to address those concerns in Windows 8.1, but it's obsession with the Start screen may still turn some users off.
Let's start with the good news first. Users can now choose to either boot into the Start screen or the traditional desktop. That's great news for those who hated having to see the Start screen every time they booted up Windows 8, but it's not like the Start screen is suddenly an optional thing. Microsoft still wants you to use it hence the bad news.
The new Start button in Windows 8.1 is a lie. Sure, there's a Start button and it looks just like the Start button that we all grew to love on almost every past version of Windows. The only difference is that the Start button in Windows 8.1 doesn't open a list of programs and applications. Instead, it takes you to the Start screen. You can right click the Start button to bring a list of options, like Shut Down and Control Center, but the list of services and applications that you would normally associate with the Start button are still nowhere to be seen.
Now, those two additions may make or break your Windows 8.1 upgrade decision, but those aren't the only changes that were made in Windows 8.1. For starters, Microsoft made multitasking much better with an option to have four apps running side-by-side on the same screen. You can also adjust the size of each app so that your email and search app take up most of the display while having a small sliver reserved for the Weather app and Xbox Music.
Search has also been overhauled in Windows 8.1 with Bing Smart Search. Not only does Bing scour the Web for all your Mesopotamia, Ohio needs, but it can also search for apps, locally stored files and files you have saved on SkyDrive.
If you already own Windows 8, you can grab the Windows 8.1 update at the Windows Store. In fact, you should receive a notification today on the Start screen telling you to upgrade. For everybody else, you can get Windows 8.1 for $119 and Windows 8.1 Pro for $199.[Image: Windows Blog]