But many of these existing users installed Windows 8 on their aging, non-touch PCs, machines for which the operating system's touch-centric design was poorly suited. Microsoft compounded this problem by removing some of the desktop mode's most popular features, namely the Start button and Start menu.
Although Windows 8.1 seeks to advance Microsoft's touch-oriented mobile agenda, this update is also intended to provide a better experience for traditional desktop users. If you're one of these users, you'll need to enable several of the features, which are turned off by default.
Fortunately, turning on these features requires little effort and could transform your difficult-to-use Windows 8 PC into a Windows 8.1 workhorse. Here are eight tips to get you started.
1. Access the Taskbar and Navigation menu.
If you're a desktop user annoyed by Windows 8, the Taskbar and Navigation menu is Microsoft's attempt to appease you. This menu doesn't contain all of Windows 8.1's improvements for desktop users, but it has most of them. There are several ways to access this menu from the desktop. The easiest is to simply right-click the taskbar and then select "Properties," which will launch the menu in a new window.
Alternatively, you can access the Taskbar and Navigation menu via the Settings menu, which is activated from the desktop either by pressing "i" and the Windows key at the same time, or by positioning the mouse cursor over one of the right-hand hot corners.
Once the Taskbar and Navigation menu is open, you'll want to navigate to the "Navigation" tab. As you'll see in many of the remaining tips here, this tab is where most of the action is.
2. Activate the boot-to-desktop mode.
By default, Windows 8.1 still boots to the Live Tile-dominated Start Screen. You can change this by enabling the new boot-to-desktop mode. Go to the "Navigation" tab in the Taskbar and Navigation menu, and select "When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go the desktop instead of Start."
3. Explore the Start button's secondary menu.
Windows 8.1 brings back the Start button but not the Start Menu. But by right-clicking on the Start Menu, users can summon a list of secondary functions. This list includes many of the Start Menu's features, including restart and power-down commands. It might be enough to pacify some unhappy Windows 8 users. For others, the Windows Store offers a variety of Start menu replacements that might do the trick.
4. Unify your backgrounds.
Windows 8.1 lets you set the same background for the desktop, the Start screen, and the All Apps view. This might not sound like a big deal, but if you have to move between any of the views, having the same background makes it a lot less jarring. To activate this feature, you'll need the Navigation tab again. Just select "Show my desktop background on Start."