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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.

[Steve Ballmer said what about Eric Schmidt? Read Microsoft CEOs' Wackiest Quotes: Who Said That?]

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: Apprentice
2/19/2014 | 11:05:36 AM
Business use
I don't understand why Microsoft has been so slow to grasp that business users can't effectively use a touch screen with their daily tools.  Even Excel is a wash.  With Kingdom (geology tools) saying they have no intention of making their applications compatible with Windows 8 and others offering only registry hacks to work around .NET Framework issues, it leaves IT in an unenviable position of recommending a freeze not only on desktop OS but server OS. I continue to get major vendors *strongly* recommending I back off of Server 2012 implementations.  And let's face it ... there is no benefit to the server administrator in negotiating Metro.  Open server apps in metro and it opens on the old Desktop...leaving me with the impression that they didn't finish implementation.  Apps stores are NOT of interest there.  Regarding display, I do understand their perceived need to enter the smartphone market but they seem to have forgotten the business user for whom dual 27" monitors is now a minimum standard.  Ironically, Windows 8 virtually forced dual monitors with their partial Window.  It took something like Windows 8 combined with the loss of Technet for the legion of small IT guys out there to start pushing business for Linux solutions.  I think it is obvious whyt Microsoft has decided to dump them ... Microsoft wants the service sector they created and maintain.  So far, Windows 8 has worked ... like an antivirus company writing viruses only they can fix.  For now, I strongly advise staying with Server 2008 versions and avoiding 2012 like the plague.   At least Vista appeared to be an integrated solution ... Windows 8 in it's original form at least is already water under the bridge with Windows 9 a vaporware promise for a working solution.
User Rank: Strategist
2/12/2014 | 1:00:11 PM
Re: UI Lacking cohesiveness
What I never unerstood. Is after Windows Vista which obviously was a flop. Ballmer redeemed himself by creating Windows 7. Which I don't think many would argue is the next Windows XP. So why after a good recovery with Windows 7 would Ballmer OK another risky decission with Windows 8. Anytime you make dramatic changes you risk losing customers. Its almost a given that Windows 9 will be what most users wanted with Windows 8. I just don't get why users have to wait until the next revision of Windows to get it right? Much of what is wrong with Windows 8 was fixed by simple and free third party tools. So I know this is not about major code revisions to the operating system. What we want is there you just have to turn it on.
User Rank: Ninja
2/12/2014 | 11:57:26 AM
Re: Back tracking Microsoft?
What is stupifying is that Microsoft conducted user testing of Beta Win8 that provided problematic feedback from desktop users that Ballmer decided to ignore.  First mistake was leaving the desktop user functionality out of the orginal Win8 design, second mistake was going to production knowing there would be issues.  However Win8.1 Update 1 should satisty most desktop users.  So sad M$ puts its customers through such a ringer every other OS release.
User Rank: Ninja
2/12/2014 | 11:36:39 AM
Re: No Start Menu, no Win8
The New Start icon in Win8.1 brings back a lot of lost features for Desktop users with a right click.  I find it interesting the Update 1 provides most of the other lost functions for desktop users like Minimize and Close icons on a "modern" app window and with the ability to put modern apps on the desktop task bar.   Win8.1 U1 is a winner.  So what's left for Win9?  After Update 1 who's going to care about the old Start Button?
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/11/2014 | 4:38:07 PM
Re: No Start Menu, no Win8
Yeah, you raise an interesting point here. If the Start menu is eventually going to come back in Windows 9, why wait? Why implement all of these quasi-integrations now instead of just restoring the one thing everyone's been asking for? Personally, I don't feel that strongly about the Start menu, but it's clear that a lot of people do, and I'm not sure why Microsoft would drag its feet. A new Start menu certainly can't present too large an engineering challenge, right? So what does Microsoft hopes to achieve in the meantime? Is it witholding the Start menu just so it will have more ways to differentiate Windows 9 when it finally arrives?
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 6:37:13 PM
Re: The squeaky wheel is getting greased
Yes, but, Steve Jobs was a genius in anticpating what would be appealing to his users.  MS doesn't have anybody like that and isn't likely acquire one any time soon.  Rather, MS has gotten by with being the default, but that is increasingly hard to do as the market is changing.

All businesses should listen to their customers, after which the owners/managers should do what they think is best.  And if you think you're strong enough to ram whatever you think is advantageous to you down your customers' throats, you may well be right in the short term, but you're still undermining your own position if you try.

User Rank: Strategist
2/10/2014 | 12:41:57 PM
No Start Menu, no Win8
If M$ is planning on bringing back the Start Menu back in Win9, there is absolutely NO technical reason they can't bring it back in 8.1.1, or even via a hotifx; there are dozens of products out there that do it today.  Since that is the only significant major change they haven't backed away from at least partially, and it is the primary reason so many people viscerally hate Win8. it can only be pride or misplaced marketing, trying to force everyone to get used to the tablet/phone interaface and thus boost M$'s offerings there.  I don't think the marketing idea makes a bit of sense, given current results, but marketeers are seldom driven by facts or logic.


That being said, under Ballmer, my money was on pride, and he's gone now, but either way, a pox on their house if they wait.


But hey, maybe they're trying to keep up the string of good OS, bad OS...
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 11:00:59 AM
Re: The squeaky wheel is getting greased
I agree with you except that donít listen to customer ideas just do what we think was also standard operating procedure under Gates. It is just that Ballmer was in charge when the company reached the point it no longer had the clout to make it stick. In addition it is totally the way Apple operates but at this time it is working for them.
User Rank: Strategist
2/10/2014 | 9:17:50 AM
Re: UI Lacking cohesiveness
I could not have said that better myself.  I am sick and tired of Microsoft putting out sloppy operating systems that need continual patching.  It seems that consumer is not important enough for Microsoft to take the time to do the job right the first time.  Have you noticed all the patches that Windows has already needed?   And to add insult to it all, Microsoft wants you to fumble through their new interface that is not logical, or friendly to using a mouse and keyboard in an office environment.  Microsofts new Coke recipe.

User Rank: Strategist
2/10/2014 | 8:36:44 AM
Re: A day late
Regardless of what happens with Windows; I will be spending much more time with Linux over the forseeable future. The distributions have been steadily improving and I would have no reservations at this point about putting it in the enterprise.
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