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Windows 8.1 Update 1: Nadella's Challenge

Microsoft has a new CEO, but does it have a new Windows strategy? Here's what to expect from Windows 8.1 Update 1.

Another build of Windows 8.1 Update 1 leaked online last week. Microsoft has yet to confirm the update or details that trickled out via screenshots and unverified reports. But with functional builds now replacing soft evidence, it seems clear Microsoft is tinkering with its controversial Live Tile UI.

What is Microsoft working on, and what does it mean for future Windows products? Here's what we know so far.

1. What's the goal of Update 1? Windows 8.1 introduced a number of enhancements, including a boot-to-desktop mode, that makes the touch-oriented OS friendlier to PC users. Unfortunately for Microsoft, most of those users haven't been persuaded to upgrade. With Update 1, the company is taking another swing.

2. What new features can I expect? Recent Update 1 builds allow users to pin Modern apps to the desktop's taskbar. If you spend most of your time running legacy applications but also enjoy a few Modern apps, this tweak will let you launch Windows Store titles without jumping to the tiled Start screen. Once opened, Modern apps automatically display on the taskbar.

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Unlike legacy programs, the apps themselves still open in full-screen mode, which blocks out the taskbar and other desktop elements. That said, Update 1 apps feature a title bar at the top of the screen that includes many cues familiar to desktop users, including "Minimize" and "Close" buttons in the right corner, and a menu of options in the left corner.

The title bar is one of several features ostensibly designed to make Modern apps easier to control with a mouse. Windows 8 and 8.1 arguably work best on cutting-edge devices such as Microsoft's Surface Pro 2, but many Windows 8 users installed the OS on older, non-touch hardware.

Other mouse-oriented features include new context menus for Modern UI Live Tiles. Currently, if a user right-clicks on a Live Tile, the control options appear at the bottom of the screen. That's fine if you have a touchscreen tablet. But if you're using a mouse and PC, it's awkward and inconvenient to have to click one spot to activate the controls, and somewhere else to use them. Update 1 fixes this problem by treating Live Tiles more like desktop apps; if you right-click on a tile or group of tiles, the controls appear in a menu that hovers over the selection.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 will allegedly make Live Tiles more palatable to mouse-and-keyboard users.
(Source: WZor)
Windows 8.1 Update 1 will allegedly make Live Tiles more palatable to mouse-and-keyboard users. (Source: WZor)

Update 1 also places a search tool on the Start screen, meaning mouse users have another way to submit a query without tediously accessing the hidden Charms menu. Other additions include a tool that tracks how much disk space is being used by apps, media and files, and the Recycle Bin. Windows 8.1 features a similar feature that only monitors apps.

The update also includes an Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer 11. It appears to address website compatibility problems, but leaked builds haven't revealed many details.

Reports conflict as to whether Update 1 will enable the OS's boot-to-desktop mode by default, as originally thought. Recent rumors

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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User Rank: Strategist
2/10/2014 | 8:32:47 AM
Re: A day late
User Rank: Apprentice
2/10/2014 | 4:48:28 AM
UI Lacking cohesiveness
Windows 8 is undoubtedly designed for touch enabled PC hardware. However, its new User Interface (UI) is poorly designed and executed. No wonder, most users prefer Windows 7 over it. I am a Surface Pro user and I feel the live tile UI and the Desktop Environment lack cohesion. Personally, I feel extremely irritated with switching between the desktop and the live tile UI environment. Furthermore, having a different UI in its live tile environment is confusing, irregular, and unfamiliar.

Removing the Start Menu from the Desktop environment is a big fail. Something which was working perfectly well should not be abandoned because the UX Designer wants something new.

Perhaps the new update might bring the much needed cohesiveness presently lacking in the existing User Experience. 
User Rank: Ninja
2/9/2014 | 9:24:56 PM
When you start near the top, it's really hard to improve!
I think Microsoft's biggest problem is that Windows itself is too hard to beat. They've created THE World Standard, and everybody else has been copying their "look and feel" for decades now. There really is scant room for improvement, and there won't be until some unimagined technological breakthrough occurs or somehow there is an equally monumental change in how we work. Until then, it's just planned obsolescence, and Redmond isn't Detroit; they are just too fundamentally honest to make that sort of thing work.




User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 4:55:30 PM
Overcoming the Start menu issue
I have not had extensive experience yet with Windows 8, but will be installing it on my mother's computer soon.

One of the complaints I've heard well articulated before is that replacing the "Start" functionality with the tile interface is rather jarring and particularly removes you from your context.  It seems that the doorway effect - walking through a doorway and forgetting why you entered - may be kicking in here.

To help users not lose their context, why not make the tile background translucent when invoked from the keyboard or mouse?  This could help make it feel like a not-entirely-other world than the old desktop world.
User Rank: Ninja
2/8/2014 | 2:11:39 PM
The squeaky wheel is getting greased
As it should be.  One of the things that annoyed me about MS under Steve Ballmer was the brazen attempts to dictate to the market and make life difficult for perceived enemies without regard to the wants and needs of customers (the people who pay), which should come before all else (investors and employees are paid out of what customers provide).  One of the things I'm hoping for from Satya Nadella is a commitment to put customers (especially end users) first.  I'd like to see a quick end to the monopoly games too, but customer-centrism is both more important (a customer-centric monopolist is a lot more tolerable than a stockholder/executive-centric one could possibly be) and more easily achieved in the short term.

i've no objection to frequent releases, but Mozilla's recent practice of a major release a couple of times a year is ridiculous.  If MS wants to use the quick release model, then there should be a major release once every few years and minor releases every few months.  So Windows might well get up to 8.99 before Windows 9 comes out, but under no circumstances do I want to see Windows 100 in my lifetime.  Major releases should mean something instead of being a mere marketing ploy.


User Rank: Ninja
2/8/2014 | 10:37:48 AM
Re: Back tracking Microsoft?
Exactly! I was on the beta test forums and the top complaints were Metro and the lack of a start menu plus the lack of hardware support for not that old and not that unusual equipment. Why even have a beta phase when the major complaints of the majority of users are arrogantly ignored? Microsoft got what they deserved, but they should have been hit much harder on that.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 10:08:48 AM
A day late
...and a dollar short from a company whose motto ought to be "where quality and usability are Job 1.1, SP3".
User Rank: Strategist
2/8/2014 | 9:45:18 AM
Back tracking Microsoft?
So Microsoft is back tracking on Windows 8 given all the backlash and weak PC sales. Go figure, does not take much of a CEO to realize you have to satify your customers. Could have saved themselves some lost sales to listen to beta testers feedback on Windows 8 in the first place.
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