Microsoft hopes to improve on Windows 8's lackluster first year with Windows 8.1. But is Microsoft's new OS right for you?
6. Windows 8.1 offers improved core apps, including Internet Explorer 11 and better SkyDrive integration. But it also removes a few features.
Some of Windows 8's core apps, such as the Bing News app, have gained a following. But others, such as the bare-bones Mail client, have provoked particular derision.
Windows 8.1 will offer not only improved versions of existing apps, but also several new titles, such as Windows Movie Maker. Many additions are sure to delight, such as the Camera app's new panorama mode, or Internet Explorer 11, which supports new Web standards and can allegedly open up to 100 tabs without a performance slowdown. But other new features will face scrutiny, such as the decision to remove Facebook and Flickr integration from the Photos app.
This removal stems partly from the fact that SkyDrive is fully baked into Windows 8.1; now that users can easily store and access photos both locally and in Microsoft's cloud, the company evidently feels hooks to third-party photo hosting sites are no longer necessary. The move could upset some users, but if Bing Smart Search is a hit, Microsoft might end up being right.
7. With Bing Smart Search, Windows 8.1 combs not only your computers but also the Internet and SkyDrive.
Unlike Windows 8's Search Charm, the new Bing Smart Search function doesn't separate query returns into categorized lists -- e.g. apps, files and so on. Instead, it aggregates results into a single fluid page that includes not only local files, but also returns pulled from SkyDrive, Bing Web search and more.
The results, which include vivid image previews, could encourage users to make use of the cloud. Bing Smart Search includes Microsoft's optical character recognition (OCR) technology, which can search for text in images and gives users with thousands of images a new way to sort through the chaos.
8. Windows 8.1 introduces better Modern UI multi-tasking.
Microsoft's Windows 8 TV commercials often point out that iPads can't multitask but Windows tablets can. But in the original version of the Modern UI, the multitasking feature -- called App Snapping -- only allowed apps to be viewed in one configuration -- one app occupied 75% of the screen, split vertically, and the other app occupied the rest.
Windows 8.1 allows up to four apps to be snapped together, depending on the device's resolution. It also allows users to dynamically alter the size of each app window, eliminating the earlier version's constraints.
9. Windows 8.1 adds lots of small touches.
Though Windows 8.1 largely resembles its predecessor, it adds a number of small touches that could add up to a more enjoyable user experience. Additions such as the boot-to-desktop mode and UI-unifying wallpapers already speak to Windows 8.1's expanded customizability, for example. Other examples include twice as many ways to resize Live Tiles, the ability to organize Tiles into groups, and more controls for unpinning or deactivating given apps.
Windows 8.1 also enables automatic updates by default, adds useful business features such as Miracast, and supports intriguing emerging technologies such as 3-D printing. Stubborn Live Tile skeptics might not be converted, but for some, Windows 8.1 could form a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.
10. Windows 8.1 will launch with much nicer, and much more attractively priced, devices.
Desktop-oriented users might be intrigued by an emerging variety of touchscreen all-in-one PCs or ultrabooks, meanwhile, or even docking stations and external monitors that turn tablets such as the Surface Pro 2 into desktop PCs.