Windows 8.1 Update 1: Nadella's Challenge - InformationWeek

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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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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?
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