Windows 8.1 update adds new features, but not enough

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Microsoft has released the long-awaited update to its current Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8.1 adds features that were sorely missing from the initial software, but the changes aren't likely to be enough to entice already-annoyed PC users.

(Credit: Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET)

A year after the first release of Windows 8, Microsoft's Windows 8.1 update brings back the Start button, as well as other features that were bafflingly omitted from the initial roll-out of the operating system. The software giant's strategy of radically redesigning its desktop interface and pushing users by default to an interactive, tile-based app drawer, rather than the desktop they were familiar with, drew criticism from a wide range of users.

Windows 8's first incarnation fell victim to an attempt to prioritise tablet and touchscreen users' wants over the company's entrenched PC user base, with the default tiled-grid "Metro" interface designed to be operated with taps and swipes from a finger, rather than the movements of a mouse. (The Metro name was eventually dropped after legal threats from a German retailer of the same name.)

The Windows 8.1 update lets users choose to boot directly to the traditional desktop mode and brings back the Start button that was missing from the previous Windows 8 desktop taskbar. This move may appease the millions of users who could potentially have upgraded from a previous version of Windows but were turned away by the compromised tiled interface. The return of the Start button isn't complete, though; the interface is different to the familiar menu seen in Windows 7, and some apps are only available through the existing tiled menu.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Windows 8.1 still has a heavy skew towards touchscreen use in its Modern (née Metro) interface, which has been updated with improved preloaded apps and a more flexible interface, with options to resize tiles over a wider range and to move multiple tiles in groups. This interface will remain the default choice on tablets like Microsoft's own Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.

Despite that, Windows 8.1 is still split between catering towards tablet users and traditional PCs. Windows tablets made up only 5 per cent of worldwide market share in Q2 2013, while overall PC demand is expected to drop a full 10 per cent this year. IDC analyst Al Gillen told CNET, "This has been a little bit of a wake-up call for Microsoft. It couldn't just come into the tablet market and be dominant on day one. It will have to fight for market share."

Over 40 million people worldwide bought a copy of Windows 8 outright or pre-installed on a desktop, laptop or tablet computer in the first month after the operating system's October 2012 launch. Sales slowed after the first month, with May 2013 figures showing around 100 million sales in total.

Microsoft is hoping that the Windows 8.1 update will draw in existing customers, appease anyone unhappy with Windows 8 and make Windows more appealing to potential buyers looking to choose a new PC or tablet. The update is available now on any Windows 8 device and can be found through a prominent link in the Store app.

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gregory.opera posted a comment   

Does anyone else have problems connecting to their home broadband (via Wi-Fi OR ethernet) since updating to Windows 8.1?

We're having massive connectivity issues since updating and I'm pretty sure I've ruled-out Windows 8.1...

But I thought I'd see if anyone else has the same issues.


grumpi posted a comment   

So much for expecting Microsoft to fix the appalling font rendering in Windows 8.1 General Release.

Text is as blurry as ever. Same in Office 2013.

That alone makes Windows 8.1 unusable.


LukeR2 posted a comment   

I have a HP Ultrabook (no touchscreen) with Win 7 on it. I got Win 8 installed on it last October only about $40.
It was terrible, suprisingly my battery life decreased which was opposite to what Microsoft advertised. No doubt related, the laptop would get quite hot and the fan buzzed all the time.
I also didn't like the layout of Windows 8 and the journey you had to take getting from one program to another.
Also non Microsft programs all of a sudden would do strange things, pages closed etc.
i hated Windows 8 so much I paid a heap of money to get my local PC shop to re-install Windows 7, it was worth it!!
Microsoft needs to learn that the consumer now has options.
Long gone are the days of Vista where Microsft told us, you'll pay through the nose for this bloated piece of crap because we know you can't go anywhere else.


MarkB6 posted a comment   

Yes I agree with jsurfer. Windows 8 was great and Windows 8.1 is better and feel faster than before. I think people have to give it a good go and and not pass judgement after trying it for a few minutes in a store, or worse - after watching a video off youtube. My one advice is if you are going to get windows 8 for a laptop then strongly consider a machine with a touch screen. For the desktop users Logitech make a great keyboard\touch pad combo with Windows 8 gestures. At the end of the day an open mind add to a great new experience.


jsurfer posted a comment   

Ohh Stop whinging, this is a fantastic OS. Windows 8.1 is great an age where touch screens and mobile PC's are very popular. Whats interesting is that Microsoft has also kept the traditional desktop system attached to the new interface and is integrated. I don't see others doing that.

Well done windows you definitely have my vote and thank you :)


quick.zephyr posted a comment   

So Campbell..."....but not enough"? Did you miss your deadline or something and actually forgot to include the bit where you tell us all why you thing it wasn't enough?


lalex81 posted a comment   

With a headline stating that the updates were not enough I was expecting an article detailing what Windows 8.1 should've fixed but didn't.

What are the missing features to make this a good OS?


gregory.opera posted a comment   

Microsoft's Windows 8 isn't actually that bad once you get your head around it... Though it is certainly better-suited to all of the touch-enabled laptops floating around these days (as opposed to "traditional" laptops).

In saying this, I dual-boot Ubuntu (Linux) on my Sony VAIO laptop because as slick as Windows 8 is, I find that Ubuntu performs most tasks quicker and with fewer issues (crashes, etc...).

If I had a newer laptop however (my laptop is three-ish years old and quickly dying), I'd probably use Windows 8 a little more...


B_Chapman posted a comment   

..the let us make 7 look like 98, but letting us make 8 and 8.1 look like 7, that's a step too far...

I think i'll stick to win7.

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