Exploring the latest Windows changes

Exploring the latest Windows changes
Screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Start screen.

In the year and a half since Microsoft launched its Windows 8 operating system - hailed by some as "bold and refreshing" - the consensus is that its radical changes have alienated users, especially those working on desktop PCs.

Replacing the Start menu with the tile-like Start screen did not go down well with users, while a typical Windows 8 anecdote probably begins with: "I did not know how to turn off the computer."

A company with a more devoted following, such as Apple in the Steve Jobs era, might well have persuaded users to accept the changes, but Microsoft does not have the luxury.

So it made some tweaks in last year's Windows 8.1, such as reviving the Start button (but without the Start menu) and the ability to boot directly to the desktop.

The latest update - Windows 8.1 Update 1 - makes the interface more palatable for those using a mouse and keyboard.

Here is what you need to know about the new update.

1. It is mandatory

The update, which is roughly 900MB in size, is compulsory for computers running Windows 8.1.

Users have till May 13 to install this update. If they do not, they will be unable to install future security patches.

In other words, to keep Windows 8.1 secure, you must install this update. Businesses get more time to roll out the update, but others should install it immediately.

If updating from Windows 8, you will need to first install the Windows 8.1 update from the Windows Store, not via the usual Windows Update.

Subsequently, you can update to Windows 8.1 Update 1 using Windows Update (this is one of those Windows 8 inconsistencies). Got it?

2. It is smaller, faster and more memory efficient

Windows 8.1 now requires just 16GB of file space, compared with around 32GB before. This is great for tablets with limited storage, or even laptops with small solid-state drives. The memory requirement has also decreased from 2GB to 1GB of RAM. So even those on older or budget machines should be able to upgrade to Windows 8.1.

3. You can't miss the Power button and Search feature

Windows now shows the Power button, Wi-Fi status and even an option to change the keyboard language at the log-in screen.

On the Start screen, the Power button and the Search feature are now at the top right-hand corner.

Previously, they were hidden in the Charms menu, which had to be called up by swiping in from the left edge using a finger, or by moving your mouse to the bottom left corner.

As before, you can just start typing to begin a search, but this feature, along with the Charms menu, may not have been obvious to new users.

4. Windows will choosethe right interface

On tablets, Windows will boot automatically to the Start screen. For laptops and desktop PCs, it will go straight to the familiar Windows desktop environment. This makes sense as these devices may not have touchscreens.

Related to this is the default behaviour of apps when opening files such as videos and photos. Often, there are two versions of an app - one that operates in the desktop mode and the other in the Modern UI (Microsoft's name for the tile-based Windows 8 interface) mode. With the new update, the operating system (OS) will choose the appropriate app.

For instance, if you click on an image while on the desktop, it will open the desktop version of the Photo app, not the Modern UI version. This gets my vote as the best part of the update.

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