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4/9/2014
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Windows 8.1 Update: 5 Essential Facts

Microsoft's Windows 8.1 update will try to tempt non-touch users, including those transitioning away from Windows XP.

Windows 8.1 Update 1: 10 Key Changes
Windows 8.1 Update 1: 10 Key Changes
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Microsoft on Tuesday released a Windows 8.1 update designed to make the touch-oriented operating system more palatable to mouse-and-keyboard users, a great many of whom might be looking for new PCs now that Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP.

Microsoft is currently riding a solid momentum streak, thanks in large part to new CEO Satya Nadella's cloud-first, mobile-first strategy. Still, it's hard to handicap the Windows 8.1 update's prospects.

The update, previously called Update 1 and Spring Update in online reports, is more about tweaks than new features, making it modest compared to last year's update from 8 to 8.1. Windows 8.1 provided significant improvements but didn't provoke a spike in adoption; according to Net Applications, fewer than half of Windows 8 users, who can all install 8.1 for free, have bothered to update. If Windows 8.1 has floundered, can this comparatively lightweight update somehow do the trick?

Maybe. Whereas Microsoft merely encouraged users to move from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, it's forcing the issue this time, at least if you're already running Windows 8.1 and want to receive future security updates.

[Still using Windows XP? Read Windows XP Game Over: 9 Upgrade Options.]

Even so, the update makes the OS easier to use on non-tablet devices. Are the changes enough to satisfy Windows 8 skeptics? Sound off in the comments to let us know what you think.

1. Boot-to-desktop is the new normal.
Unless you're using a tablet, Windows 8.1 now boots directly to the desktop, even on touchscreen laptops and desktops. Users can still choose whether their device boots to the desktop or Start screen. Only the default has changed, and only on traditional devices.

2. File associations are smarter.
Before the update, pictures, music, and video files opened by default with Modern apps. That's still true for tablets, but laptops and PCs will instead use desktop applications. Users can still customize these associations, but the switch should make Windows 8.1 less jarring.

The Windows 8.1 update's new features includes more apparent search and power tools. (Source: Microsoft)
The Windows 8.1 update's new features includes more apparent search and power tools.
(Source: Microsoft)

Many new users are surprised when they click a jpeg file on their desktop, only to be thrust over to the Modern UI. Now, that experience can be avoided.

3. Modern apps can be treated more like legacy applications.

Modern apps still launch into full-screen mode, but if the user directs his mouse to the bottom of the screen, the taskbar becomes accessible. The apps also include a menu bar that's invisible by default but surfaces when users mouse over the top of the screen. It includes familiar right-corner icons to close or minimize the app.

When minimized, Modern apps even appear as thumbnail previews on the taskbar. Some of them, such as the Xbox Music app, allow the user to access basic controls without fully opening the app. When Modern apps are closed, Windows 8.1 now takes users to the last closed app, instead of the Start screen.

Modern apps are now accessible from the taskbar, and some, such as the Xbox Music app, even integrate controls into a thumbnail preview. (Source: Microsoft)
Modern apps are now accessible from the taskbar, and some, such as the Xbox Music app, even integrate controls into a thumbnail preview.
(Source: Microsoft)

Some people aren't using many Modern apps, but Microsoft hopes to make new titles more visible by automatically pinning the Windows Store app to the taskbar. Users can unpin the app if they choose.

In sum, these tweaks mean that once an updated Windows 8.1 PC has been

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Cyber Senior
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Cyber Senior,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2014 | 7:46:30 PM
Booting to Windows start screen after Windows 8.1 Update 5 installed
Wondered why my laptop was booting up to the desktop!! However, it does not seem to be possible to change the option so that it boots up to the Windows start screen. It appears that it boots to the desktop whether or not you have this option selected under Navigation Options.
IvanT592
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IvanT592,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2014 | 3:52:26 AM
Re: Booting to Windows start screen after Windows 8.1 Update 5 installed
Steal 3GB of space in my SSD and I saw NO changes that justify this
moonwatcher
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moonwatcher,
User Rank: Ninja
4/22/2014 | 4:00:33 PM
Re: Booting to Windows start screen after Windows 8.1 Update 5 installed
I liked the changes....But a nearly 1 GB download for these seemingly simple minor tweaks? That is just crazy. And as someone previously noted. what if some PCs or lap tops sit on the store shelves unsold past the download deadline? How will you be able to convince Microsoft to let you upgrade?
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2014 | 4:43:04 AM
Re: Booting to Windows start screen after Windows 8.1 Update 5 installed
This is something I like. As an old Windows user, booting directly to destkop looks more convenient. Now I used Windows 8 and the first thing I do after booting up is turning to desktop. But I encountered the same issue after upgrading to Windows 8.1 - I am not able to find the option to choose whether or not I want to boot to desktop?
moonwatcher
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moonwatcher,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2014 | 8:53:25 AM
Re: Booting to Windows start screen after Windows 8.1 Update 5 installed
Here is how to do it: 

1. After booting Windows 8.1, click the Desktop tile to enter Desktop mode.

2. Right-click any open area in the taskbar, then click Properties.

3. Click the Navigation tab, then check the box next to Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in.

4. Click OK, then reboot. Windows should plunk you right into Desktop.

And that's all there is to it.

Of course if you get the 8.1.1 update, it ought to do it automatically.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/11/2014 | 5:50:59 PM
Re: Booting to Windows start screen after Windows 8.1 Update 5 installed
Thanks for listing the steps, moonwatcher. Incidentally, for those who haven't done much tweaking in Windows 8.1, the Navigation tab is also where you can activate or deactivate hot corners, among other useful things.

Oddly, though, some important controls are elsewhere. As mentioned in the article, the Surface Pro we updated didn't have the Windows Store app pinned to the taskbar at first. To enable this feature, we went to PC Settings via the Charm, then PC and devices, then Corners and edges-- but not the Navigation tab.
moonwatcher
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moonwatcher,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2014 | 8:48:50 AM
RE: Windows 8.1.1 update - finally they "get it"
This is FINALLY moving in the right direction. How dumb that a multi-billion dollar company like Microsoft never did any consumer testing when developing Windows 8, except in house with a bunch of fan boys. If they had, they could have corrected many of these design mistakes BEFORE pushing it out the door and alienating millions of desktop users. If they will add back in the the honest to goodness, tried and true START button in Windows 9, eventually perhaps that disasterous roll out will become a distant memory. Only time will tell.
DAVIDINIL
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DAVIDINIL,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2014 | 11:31:13 AM
Win 8 update
Logically I believe that the 8.1.1 tweeks fix most of my beefs with Win 8. What Microsoft cannot fix is the bad taste this fiasco has left in my mouth.   Win 7 won Microsoft a lot of consumer goodwill, which it promptly destroyed with Win 8.  Then made it worse with Win 8.1 by not addressing consumer complaints. 

Arrogant, out of touch, ***holes, tone deaf, idiotic, top heavy, takes its customers for granted, condescending towards its customers.  Did I leave any adjectives off?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/11/2014 | 5:54:37 PM
Re: Win 8 update
I think a lot of people feel that way-- but remember: A lot of the decision-makers who worked on the original Windows 8 are no longer with the company. That might not wash the bad taste out of your mouth, but if you haven't already jumped to a non-Windows platform, I think it allows for some optimism. Seems like Terry Myerson knows the stakes facing him.
6 one way half a dozen another
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6 one way half a dozen another,
User Rank: Strategist
4/12/2014 | 5:08:40 AM
Pinning
Thanks for mentioning pinning in this article. As a new to 8.1 user, I was both alarmed and annoyed by a bunch of the live pre-installed apps by Windows. The mention got me to look into how to not only unpin them from my start screen, but how to also turn them off. I don't want to really uninstall them but not having a bunch of unused apps constantly updating unwanted info is a big relief.
Misterdevers
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Misterdevers,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/13/2014 | 5:16:48 AM
Go to Start Screen after closing apps involves disabling more optional features
Aparently you have to disable the "show Windows Store apps on the task bar" option for Windows to give you the Start screen after closing your apps, even if you have the "when I log in or close all apps on a screen, show the desktop instead of the start screen" option unchecked. This makes no sense. I like the tighter integration of the task bar, but I have become accustomed to the new Start screen. Plus this means users who wish to be brought back to Start cannot have the task bar appear in the modern apps. This is frustrating. 
anon7687420124
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anon7687420124,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2014 | 3:44:14 PM
There is an alternative: linux
My friend was very happy with Windows/XP.  He also has a perfectly good computer, thank you very much, and didn't want to spend a lot of money getting a new machine.

 

So I installed Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on it, with wine and xfce (a lightweight window manager).  All of his favorite windows apps work just fine.  In addition, he has a whole suite of native linux apps to play with.  Canonical is going to support 12.04 for another 2 years.  He also has the option of booting into KDE - he's still experimenting with which desktop he likes.

I realize that this is going to sound heretical, but there alternatives to Microsoft.  You don't have to do as they say.  You have options that do not involve grabbing you by the ankles and shaking you until all of the spare change in your pockets falls out.  Where the EULA says what you *can* do, not what you *can't*.

 

 

 

 
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2014 | 8:36:00 PM
Re: There is an alternative: linux
Choice is important. Whether it's some flavor of Linux, Mac, Chromebook, Windows 7 or Windows 8x, there are options that each have benefits and draw backs. Unless someone has a specific business need for a specific OS, there's all the flexibility in the world.
Cyber Senior
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Cyber Senior,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/16/2014 | 6:57:24 PM
Booting to Windows Start Screen following latest updates to Windows 8.1
I wrote the original post in this thread. I actually like the Windows Start Screen in Windows 8.1 and would like to be able to boot my laptop directly to it without first going to the desktop. Some sources indicate that this is possible, but I haven't succeeded in achieving this. I have installed all of the latest Windows 8.1 updates.
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