Windows 8.1: The Future Brings Familiarity

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Microsoft just rolled out the free Windows 8.1 update  last week.  While the operating system may not look all that different at first glance, it has many features and improvements you need to know about.


In the first version of Windows 8, users were able to run two apps at the same time side-by-side.  Windows 8.1 took that a step further.  Well, let’s say a few steps further.  8.1 allows up to eight apps or pages to be open and used fluidly at the same time.  Smaller devices may only allow 2-4, but large screen monitors will allow 4-8 simultaneously.


Many people, especially desktop users, were upset that the first version Windows 8 did not have a Start button.  If you were one of the many who missed the Start button in Windows 8 and wondered where it had gone, Windows 8.1 has offered you a hand.  The Start button has made its triumphant return and offers two functions:


1.  Tapping the button brings up the home tiled interface.

2.  A long press opens up system controls.


For those who miss more than the Start button and don’t care for the tiled interface unveiled in Windows 8 at all, there’s Desktop Mode.  Desktop mode displays the apps and programs in 8.1 in a more traditional Windows format.  Users who prefer desktop mode all the time can opt to have the machine boot to desktop mode by selecting to do so in the Properties menu.  To find this option:


  • Right-click in an open area,
  • Choose Properties,
  • Click the Navigation tab,
  • Under Start Screen, check the box next to “Go to desktop instead of Start when I sign in”.


8.1 gives users even more freedom to choose what’s taking up their screen.  In the regular tiled format, tiles can be re-sized in four different sizes, as well as moved around to different areas or pages.  Users can also adjust the amount of space an app is taking up when two or more are open and being used on the screen.  For instance, if you were watching a video and typing notes with Word at the same time, you could drag the corners of one app to make it larger than the other depending on your preference.  Watch Windows demonstrate re-sizing while multi-tasking here.


Windows has also boosted gesture controls for touch-screen devices in 8.1.  There are many ways to select and manipulate things on the screen, even when there is no mouse.  So, Windows has implemented many different gestures to accommodate for things like right-clicking and dragging on the devices.  Windows explains the many different ways to use your hands here.


If you were skeptical about the direction Windows was taking after Windows 8, this update will make your transition a little smoother.  The 8.1 upgrade offers some nice improvements and an easier-to-use experience by adding some familiarity.  Windows still needs to find a way to appease both its users who prefer traditional Windows and those who want something new and different, without having two entirely separate modes.

For now, 8.1’s desktop mode will encourage those slower to adapt to continue using Windows, while its new and exciting features like multiple simultaneous apps will keep tech savvy users satisfied.