Windows 8.1 Update, Microsoft's love letter to desktop users

The follow up to Windows 8.1, this update comes with a care package of features for mouse-and-keyboard users

Microsoft is due to deliver the much-awaited update to Windows 8.1, and with it comes a packed goody bag of treats for laptop and PC users.

Microsoft alienated many desktop users with the first version of Windows 8 in October 2012. People who mostly used Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard loudly complained the tablet-optimized OS was inconvenient for them to use.

Microsoft has been atoning for that sin ever since. Windows 8.1, delivered almost a year later, addressed some of those complaints, and this latest update is almost completely focused on catering to these disgruntled users.

Unveiled last week at the company's Build developer conference, Windows 8.1 update will boot directly to the traditional Windows 7-like desktop interface by default unless the device is a tablet. That's different from Windows 8, which boots to the start screen of the new Modern tile-based interface, and from Windows 8.1, which gives users the option to manually change this setting to boot to the traditional desktop. Users can adjust this default setting in Windows 8.1 update if they would rather boot to the start screen.

Another user-experience change for PC and laptop users is that after they close an application, they're taken to their previously used application, and if all are closed, users land in the traditional desktop interface. The previous Windows 8.1 default behavior was to send users to the new start screen after closing an application. In addition, pictures, music and video files will now open with traditional desktop applications, and not with the new Modern versions.

One feature that Microsoft showed last week that is not included in Tuesday's update is the full-featured, Windows 7-like start menu, some of whose capabilities were added back in Windows 8.1 when Microsoft restored the old start button.

"That is some exciting near-future stuff, which demonstrates our ongoing commitment to deliver on customer feedback," wrote Microsoft official Michael Hildebrand in a blog post this week.

Other changes users will see are more prominently displayed icons in the Modern start screen to power off their PCs and to run search queries, as well as new default icons for commonly used settings and locations, like "PC Settings" and "This PC," which is the equivalent to the old "My Computer" in previous Windows editions.

Microsoft is also trying with this update to make it easier and more natural for users to toggle between the new Modern tile-based applications and the traditional ones by making the Windows taskbar more prominent and present in the interface.

Windows 8.1 Update also adds new ways of rearranging the Modern start screen interface's live tiles by selecting multiple ones by holding down the control key, right-clicking on them and shifting them around with the mouse.

The update also includes a revamped version of Internet Explorer 11, which is better able to detect the type of device being used and adjust a series of user-experience elements accordingly, including the number of tabs on the screen and the size of fonts and menus, according to Microsoft.

"Enterprise mode," which lets the browser render legacy websites properly, is another new feature in IE 11. It is aimed primarily at companies with old intranets that their employees still need to access with, for example, IE 8.

Windows 8.1 users will receive this update automatically, and they must install it or else future updates starting with the ones coming in May will not be delivered to their PCs, according to Microsoft.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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Juan Carlos Perez

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