Why I love today’s Windows 8.1 Update

Why I love today’s Windows 8.1 Update

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Last week we heard from Brandon LeBlanc about the new Windows 8.1 Update. In his post, he gives details on the update that offers refinements to the current Windows 8.1 experience. I’m happy to let you know that the update is beginning to roll out to customers worldwide today via Windows Update. The rollout will be gradual to ensure all customers receive the update in a timely manner. Those who wish to install the update ahead of automatic updates may do so by manually checking for new updates via the Windows Update control panel. If you have automatic updates turned on, you’ll get it automatically. I’ve been using the Windows 8.1 Update for a few weeks now, and I wanted to share some of my impressions of it.

Here’s my deal: I have a Surface, a Lenovo ThinkPad Twist touch laptop, and an HP desktop PC that I have hooked up to two monitors, a mouse, and a keyboard. I affectionately refer to the HP as my “Big Ol’ Desktop.”

Before you start judging me as someone with too many devices, let me say: you can never have too many devices. Even before I worked at Microsoft, I had a reputation for having multiple devices and possibly being a little bit obsessed with them. I love and use all of them, and I have them all connected to OneDrive and my Microsoft account, so it’s easy to switch from writing a document on my Big Ol’ Desktop to editing that same document on my laptop without sticking it on a flash drive or emailing it to myself. (I remember back when I was in school, I’d burn an ENTIRE CD just so I could bring a paper from one computer to another.)

But the convenience of OneDrive and access to all my stuff from anywhere was already around before today’s update (though it used to be called SkyDrive).

The main reason I love the Windows 8.1 Update is that now, Windows responds to what kind of device and what kind of input method I’m using in order to make things as convenient and easy as they can be. Let me explain further:

If I’m using a mouse, Windows optimizes for a mouse

One of the first things I noticed with the update is that when I’m on my mouse-and-keyboard desktop PC, there are now more familiar mouse controls that show up to make it faster for me to get around. When I open up an app, if Windows detects that I’m using a mouse, it’ll show me a title bar with familiar-looking minimize and close buttons.

Reading List with close and minimize buttons

Also, if I right-click something on the Start screen with my mouse, it’ll show me a menu right next to my mouse pointer instead of the more touch-friendly app controls at the bottom of the screen.

Mouse context menu on Start screen

If I’m using touch, it shows me touch options

One of my machines is a laptop with a touch screen—so sometimes I use the touch screen, and sometimes I only interact with the keyboard and a wireless mouse.

With the latest update, Windows now switches seamlessly to show me the controls that are most useful for how I’m interacting with my PC. If I press and hold something on the Start screen instead of right-clicking it to select it, the app commands at the bottom of the screen, which are big and easy to touch, pop up instead of the mouse-friendly but not finger-friendly right-click menus.

Touch app commands

And all the same great gestures that I’ve gotten used to using with my Surface and touch laptop still work just like they always did. It’s nice to be able to choose and experience the best of both worlds.

Less separation between the desktop and Start

Now all the apps show up on the taskbar on the desktop, and you can pin apps from the Windows Store to the taskbar in addition to desktop apps. When you’re using a mouse, you can also point to the bottom edge of the screen to bring up the taskbar from wherever you are in your PC—from within an app like Mail or the Windows Store, from the Apps view, or from the Start screen. It’s no longer just a thing of the desktop. I’ve found this makes it especially easy to switch between apps and to launch apps I use often without leaving where I already am.

Taskbar with various apps pinned to it

The Windows 8.1 Update doesn’t change any of the things I’ve already learned how to do with Windows 8.1, but it adds a few new options that make it more personal—so I can do things in a way that fits the kind of device I’m using, and fits the kind of thing I’m trying to get done.

If you’re wondering when the update will be available to you, you can check to see if it’s available for you in Windows Update. If it is, you can install it right from there. Remember that because it’s a rolling update, it won’t be available for everyone right away. Also remember that if you have automatic updates turned on, you’ll get the update without needing to do anything. You can check to see if there’s a search button near your account name on the Start screen—if so, you’ve got the latest update!

Windows 8.1 Start screen example

To read more about the Windows 8.1 Update, check out What's new in Windows 8.1 Update and Windows RT 8.1 Update?

For any support-related questions, be sure to post in the Windows forum where there will be folks who’ll be able to help troubleshoot any issues or answer any specific questions.

Thanks, and enjoy!

42 Comments
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  • Here is a feature I would like to see and use: when stuff is back-upped to OneDrive, it is not automaticcally DELETED when the same stuff is accidentally deleted off the phone for synchronicity sake. I want  a backup to do a backup, so that when the item goes missing or is accidentally deleted the item will be backed up, and not irretrievably gone.

  • I really do not like the forced change of a non-Metro UI right-click, or sub-menu, on the Start menu of Windows 8.1 following this update. I'd like to be able to choose to experience what is being considered the "tablet" or "touch screen" sub-menu on the Start menu, regardless of whether or not I'm using a mouse or keyboard, or not. It is a big mistake to mix non-Metro-branded content into Metro-branded content, and vice versa. It's off brand, and does not carry a proper UX flow. Please, make this, and anything like it, a toggle-able feature.

  • mga010
    0 Posts

    I wish I could update to Windows 8.1 at all. Microsoft is telling me every two weeks that I can get the update from a store (in a huge banner across my screen), but in fact it is not there. The reasons why this can happen seem to range from missing updates to a wrong activation key. Some tell me to uninstall specific updates. Or do other hocus pocus.

    In short, it is a mess, which I cannot figure out myself, nor can my "system administrator".

    No problem. Windows 8 is running fine, and I have a replacement for the start button installed.

  • i should add that link also allows you to remove the power button. I'll keep an eye for removing the search button.

  • Anyone who wants the Power Button added to their start screen, here's the instructions

    winsupersite.com/.../windows-81-update-1-tip-toggle-power-button

  • Bradon - Thanks for the clarification as to when the power button should show up. Would be nice ot MS could give a quick patch to enable users to choose whether they want the button there or not, personally I have no need for the search but would like the power button as I tend to always shut the t100 down after every use. Until then I carry on using my shutdown tile so no biggie.

  • idc
    0 Posts

    @soukie

    I'd really enjoy this feature too, I highly agree. The power button is probably the most useless thing on a laptop. The search icon is pretty redundant considering you could just start typing, do people really need to be babied this much? Both are definitely a step back, perhaps this update is nice for tablets and phones. As for my laptop, I'm wishing I didn't install this update.

  • - Regarding the Power button and on what devices it shows up on: On devices that are not tablets like laptops, desktop PCs and All-in-Ones, the Power button should appear on the Start screen after installing the update. On most tablets you will not see the Power button on the Start screen as they have connected standby and a physical power button that lets you quickly shut down or put the device to sleep. However, on tablets larger than 8.5-inches without connected standby, you will see the Power button on the Start screen. I don’t see the Power button on my Dell Venue 8 Pro for example, or my Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet or Surface 2 but I see it on my Dell XPS 27 AIO.

  •  - It is currently not possible to disable this behavior unfortunately.

  • - I just posted my own tips and tricks for the Windows 8.1 Update here that includes some context on changes in defaults, etc. blogs.windows.com/.../some-tips-and-tricks-for-using-the-windows-8-1-update.aspx

  • Anyway incase anyone is interested techblog is here

    blogs.technet.com/.../exploring-windows-8-1-update-start-screen-desktop-and-other-enhancements.aspx

    In summary, this patch basically defaults to a "desktop" or "metro" mode based on what you are using. MS is basically trying to do what people have been asking for, keeping touch away from traditional desktop. The return of the start menu will complete the transition.

    However in defence of the desktop metro fans, MS should of included an option for users to choose whether they wanted to keep metro or dive straight to desktop mode after installing the update rather than assume they know what everyone wants. Personally I had no issue with the patch deciding what I wanted as I never liked metro on my desktop but loved it on my T100 but can understand peoples confusion.

  • MaK3
    0 Posts

    Brandon LeBlanc - I tried community forums, and they never helped me get that problem fixed, can you please make sure that you fix that glitch on Windows 8.1 update 1 that was causing IE to crash always when IE was opened? They were people who say they can't help me like MVP's who were not helpful.

  • tech blog from ms says the power button won't show up for devices with screens under 8.5". Mines 10.1" but it still doesn't show up so not sure? It shows up on my pc though.

  • I was so excited to hear about the KB 2919355 update, it meant I could get rid of some of my 3rd party modifications.

    After the update I went exploring to play with the new features, until I noticed that the feature I was most excited about wasn't there, the power button on the start screen.

    I've searched and scoured and came up with nothing, am I the only one who was excited about that feature, or the only one who didn't get it?

    Only under some articles did I see mentioned that some Computers didn't get this feature. Why? Why not give the option to everyone and let them chose to activate it if they so choose?

    I'm really getting tired of these big tech companies thinking they know what's best everyone. you can just give them the options instead of forcing your opinion on them of what they should and should not get, trust me, your not that smart.

    And instead of making it easy to ask them simple things like why my O.S.K keeps popping up or why I didn't get the latest features, by sending an email, they only let you chat or call and only at certain times.

    FYI an email can be sent at any time.

    So, ranting aside. Where's the power button for my start menu?

  • Would love an explanation as to why you don't provide an .8.1 (that can use a 8 key to do clean installs) iso download to "normal" people you know we are not all idiots. While I can do clean installs of windows 7 sp1 from a burnt .iso image using my 7 key with minimal steps the same can not be done with windows 8.1. It defies all logic windows 8 has a bad enough reputation without throwing these unnecessary steps into the process.

  • JSc
    0 Posts

    Even better: disable all auto-hide and let it be inside a window, just like a desktop application.

  • JSc
    0 Posts

    Is it possible to disable taskbar auto-hide for Windows Store Apps?

  • - Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think and giving us feedback.

    - The best place to post about the issues you are having are those community forums. Thanks!

    - I don't quite follow what you mean. Can you elaborate? And the article you link to has nothing to do with context menus?

    - If you are booting to the desktop, then closing a Windows Store app now takes you back to the previously used app OR if you close all apps, it takes your back to the desktop. So yes, having this setting check does have something to do with "dropping you on the desktop". The idea is if you are booting to the desktop then you want to see the desktop versus Start screen when you close all your apps. I don't follow you on what you mean by "turn Metro side into an app". You can boot the desktop or not. With the Update, you can pin Windows Store apps to the taskbar and launch them from the taskbar (and minimize them to the taskbar). If you don't want that, you can turn this off through the settings you discovered. I plan to do a blog post that talks a little more about these settings in the near future. Sorry to hear you're not liking the Update but your feedback is much appreciated.

    - Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment and help people out. Super awesome.

  • dp7
    0 Posts

    I was hopeful about this update, but it's an airball for me.  The ambiguously-named setting in the taskbar properties to enable metro taskbar/caption was fun to try and find. The autohide bars take an eternity to show or don't show at all.  It really highlights how much I truly hate "autohide" UI elements.  It's a forced slowdown that does nothing for me.  Having a 2nd monitor on the top or bottom edge makes it even more of a travesty. If I use a digitizer pen, neither will show. I can sacrifice the half-inch of screen real estate, just let me keep the damn things visible.

    I've been using Windows 8 since the first public preview.  I have six Windows 8 devices including desktops, a laptop, a touch all-in-one desktop, an 8" tablet and a Surface Pro 2.  I've come to accept that metro just doesn't make for a good desktop experience... I've tried, I really have.  Metro is just fine for touch input and basic apps.  However, desktop and laptop computers exist to do more than check email and play angry birds.

    This update has left me waiting for "the next update" that will bring back the classic start menu and puts metro apps in their place (desktop windows) for the rare occasion that I'd ever run one when I'm using a mouse and keyboard.  I'm using 3rd party hacks to do that now, but I'd rather not.  Then I can just put this start screen fiasco to rest for my desktop PCs.

  • Well, if context menus are only for start screen, than this update is quite useless. Previously users had 2 interfaces - Old and Modern,

    techalltop.blogspot.com/.../chillblast-helium-review.html

  • @anonnona: Yes, you can disable booting to the desktop, but making it the default forced me to have to research how to do that. I was not asked what my preference was. Also, it drives people away from the Metro UI and all those apps, instead of migrating people over from the desktop and getting rid of that legacy feature by Windows 9. (Note, I am not saying the target should be getting rid of x86 support by Win 9, but doing that via a traditional desktop does not fit with the rest of the UI.)

    Also, the thing about closing Metro apps dropping you at the desktop has nothing to do with "boot to desktop" settings. As I found out you have to uncheck the "pin Metro apps to the taskbar" option to get rid of that "feature". I don`t even know what they were thinking there... but again, this all basically turns the Metro side to an "app" that you have to launch, instead of it being your primary UI.

    This is the wrong direction! What they should have targeted is to run traditional x86 apps in little desktop bubbles over the Metro UI, so they appear as Metro apps, and get rid of the traditional desktop concept by the next major release. Instead they are heading towards masquerading Metro apps as x86 apps by running them in windows over the desktop (according to the info from BUILD).

    This is a total mess now...

  • stzeer6
    0 Posts

    My feeling towards 8.1 update are mixed it's more snappy and responsive, closing windows store apps with a mouse is much easier and less awkward, but I'm not so sure about the rest.

    Context menus on the start screen just seems less intuitive to me. It's inconsistent with the way windows store apps work but not exactly consistent with the desktop either considering you can't click and drag to select multiple items and are forced to rely on ctrl. Also the top right corner of the start screen is stating to look real cluttered.  

    The only thing I absolutely hated was having the taskbar showing up in metro apps, which you can fortunately turn off. It looks disgusting but my real issue is that Metro apps tend to have their controls/menus at the bottom so have taskbar popping up and getting in the way every time my mouse hits the bottom of the screen is terrible for usability. If you're going to have metro apps on the taskbar they should open in the desktop environment. The current behavior is kind of a mess.

    I know it sounds harsh, but I still big windows 8 fan. Keep up the good work.

  • MaK3
    0 Posts

    Brandon LeBlanc - I think that when I installed Windows 8.1 update 1, IE does not open anymore. When I open IE on Windows 8.1 update 1, I get a message telling me that IE has stopped working. Can you please fix this problem? I'm not the only one, a lot of people posted about this issue on Microsoft Answers, and other community forums.

  • snus
    0 Posts

    @mrdoubleb wrote: Metro had this fantastic, dynamic, yet clean, simplistic design language and you are "polluting" it with elements of a decade long system.

    I feel you by and large with what you wrote in your post. Since Sinofsky left, it's like there is now too many cooks deciding the direction of the Metro UI, and this update feels like a compromise. Who's in charge?

    Search was ruined with the 8.1 update by forcing Bing to replace what was a new and innovative way to search in the 8.0 version. Slowly but surely the UI is beeing dumbed down by letting all sorts of functions surface to the UI, e.g. magnifier icons are wide spread in the system and apps, because Bing destroyed how search used to work. This, and other compromises/inconsistenciea is like creep in the UI - turning it into a mess in a misunderstood way of "we at Microsoft want to hold your hand when you're using Windows 8." Please let go of my hand, thank you!

    Dear Microsoft, In your eagerness to aquire market share for Windows 8, it seems to me you're compromising a bit too much and in the proces losing control of the vision of the UI.

  • Hopefully my comments will help some people

    1. Swiping away app to quit is common for smartphones and tablets alike, don't know why it is so wrong for Metro to have the same behaviour? You don't close apps on smartphones or tablets, metro and it's app should be treated the same. The apps goes to "sleep" when it is not in focus.

    2. Windows boots to windows ONLY if you elect to. Right click taskbar > properties > navigation and disable the first check box there.

    3. Closing apps dumps you back to desktop? You've most probably elected to boot to desktop so by default it assumes you want windows to dump you back there when you close an app. To disable this right click taskbar > properties > taskbar  and uncheck "Show Windows Store app on the taskbar".

    The only hindsight for this and I can't see a solution is that microsoft should have a smarter way of determining whether to dump you back to the desktop or metro while still enabling store apps on the taskbar. Ideally I think it should be designed to dump you back at the last screen you were in before you closed the app, so if you just came from metro and closed the app, you will get dumped back there and if you came from desktop it will dump you there. Less confusing this way and doesn't require the check box.

    4. The shutdown button on metro screen should be a bit more clearer. I have this button on my desktop PC but I don't have it on my touch enabled T100 so don't really get what the go there is. I would like this button my the T100 though, maybe it determines whether you have a touch enabled screen or not?

    Personally I think MS is heading in the right direction, just need a start bar. All these changes so far makes my desktop PC better to use, and the "pollution" doesn't actually affect my touch enabled T100 unless I move the mouse around.

  • Bango!

    A new challenging board game .

    Can you beat computer on first attempt?

    For Windows 8 Devices :

    apps.microsoft.com/.../332e7379-5f3d-4687-bd97-5db605712e5b

    For windows phone 8:

    www.windowsphone.com/s

  • soukie
    1 Posts

    Is there any way to hide the Search and Power button from the start screen? I cannot find any way to do this, and it is a step back in design for my touchscreen-enabled laptop. Same goes for the task bar. Don't get me wrong, for people who want these features, this is nice, but what about giving an option to people who actually want to retain the modern way of going about things without cluttering / compromising the UI?

  • Maxim
    9 Posts

    Please, give users ability to Download latest ISO images. I have a from Windows 8 BOX edition, and after upgrading my PC I had to install Windows 8, then go to Windows 8.1, then download a bunch of Windows Updates... Can you give average users, not only TechNet subscribers ability to download latest ISO? We already have a key, why not?

  • Mike W.
    4 Posts

    Can someone please explain why the new minimize and close buttons on metro apps do the same thing?  Neither of them close the app.  If you click the X, then open Task Manager, you'll see the app is still running in the background.  I want to like this update, I really do, but then you go and do something like this that makes no sense and I am left scratching my head.  This is inconsistent with the way the X button has behaved since its introduction in Windows 95, almost 20 years ago.

  • When you have a better process for doing a clean install to 8.1 using 8 keys I will update but at the moment it is longwinded, bandwidth wasteful,illogical and the reason all of PCs (except 1 laptop) will remain on windows 7 for the foreseeable future.  

  • Well I have to say - MICROSOFT WELL DONE!

    Microsoft this is the best OS you have ever produced (should know used them all) - fast, fun to use and easy to navigate especially with the new update to 8.1 - It's PERFECT!

    LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT!!

  • Onnorh, Yo can right clcik or swipe in ANY Metro app and you get the menu bar. Why do you want to constantly display big bars of menu buttons that you only clcik when you wnat to change a setting? And how will the user know? Like they know in Win 3.1-Win 7. By learning how to interact with the new UI. Or were people simply born knowing you have to right click for a classic context menu, or what is in the File menu vs. the View menu?

  • I LOVE IT!

  • onnorh
    0 Posts

    Metro or whatever that name is a very poor UI. Take for instance the Weather app. Why is it that Microsoft decided to hide the app/commands bar by default. The weather app opens in full screen mode and the app/command bar is hidden. You are staring at this full screen thing that takes over your entire window and you feel trapped. How in the world is a user supposed to know to swipe down or up to show the app/command bar or for a desktop user to right-clicked to display the app bar. Truly unbelievable. If this isn't the dumbest thing that I've seen, I don't know what else to say. So Microsoft expects that each time an app opens in full screen mode, users should swipe down up or down or right-clicked to show an app bar that might or might not be there. Users have to memorize which apps have a hidden app bar and which do not by always perfuming these gestures. Imagine if MS Word opens and the toolbar is hidden by default and you require the user to right-clicked to exposed the app bar. Now Microsoft is talking about "WINDOWED" Metro app... why didn't you do this in the first place. So if we have "windowed" metro app and the weather app opens in a window, a user has to right=clicked just to display the commands to change the city. I don't know what MS was think, but in their quest to chase iOS...the went all in with this full screen monstrosity with hiding app menu that should be visible in the first place. This same thing applies to the Metro IE. Tabs are hidden by default...blah blah blah. No wonder ppl prefer the Desktop IE. Also, please stop the Metro Picture viewer from trying to open my picture in FULL SCREEN...very annoying. SMH

  • Oh my God! I just noticed if I close a Metro app it takes me to classic desktop! WHY?! What were you guys thinking? Are you activley trying to keep people off of Metro?

    How can you uninstall this "spring update"????

  • I truly believe this "update" is the biggest design mistake MS ever made. It is a visual nightmare, simply horrific.

    The classic task bar appearing on the Metro Start screen looks so out of place, it's like wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a suite. Worst of all it has no function whatsoever! Pinned apps on the task bar? You have those right on the Start screen! Start button? Yep, got that too in the left corner? Who came up with this brilliant idea?

    A thick black navigation bar at the bottom of Metro IE? Really?! Did anyone actually think it was a good idea to take 1/5 of the screen and put a big black bar on it?  First thing i did was look up how to switch this off as it blocked a big chunk of the view.

    Power buton on the desktop? You could have given it a live tile, but why even bother? People are able to switch their computer on with the, wait for it... physical power button. So by the time they want to shut down they are suddenly confused as to where that button may be?

    Right click context menus on the live tiles? At least you should have bothered to make them look and feel metro. So now some screen have a bottom bar when you right lcik, others show a Windoes 95 era context menu? Wow, just wow.

    Metro had this fantastic, dynamic, yet clean, simplistic design language and you are "polluting" it with elements of a decade long system. It's like you see this beautiful luxury sedan, open the door, and on the leather center console you find a bobblehead doll, the seats are covered with leopard pattern fabric and the trunk is used to transport livestock.

    Loading staright into the legacy desktop without even asking me about the change? Why? Do you realize that you should be moving people to Metro, not the other way around? What developer will develop apps for your store if half the average users won't even know the Metro world exists? At that point why just not switch Metro off completley? Hell, why not just "upgrade" everyone to Windows 7?

    Did anyone actually sign off on this? Do you guys still have a design team who did not quit once management gave them the instructions what to do?

  • Maxim
    9 Posts

    Thanks Brandon! Well, if context menus are only for start screen, than this update is quite useless. Previously users had 2 interfaces - Old and Modern, now they have 3 - old, modern and start screen which is a mix of two(((

  • - You will not see notifications or alerts appear over the icons when the Mail app or others are pinned to the taskbar.

    The context menu, like the one you see with the update on the Start screen shows that way only on the Start screen. Various Windows Store apps have different context menus when you right-click within the app. Right-clicking in the Mail app brings up the app commands at the bottom of the app today for example.

    Hope this helps!

  • Maxim
    9 Posts

    Amy, I talked about icons on pinned apps. Now when new mail comes to Outlook, I see small envelope on top of Outlook icon in taskbar, Or I pinned Facebook website to taskbar, and when someone likes my post, or new message comes, a red dot with asterisk appears on top of its icon in taskbar. Will modern apps support same behavior?

    And will new right-click menus appear in modern apps? Or they are for start screen only?

  • Zartan
    22 Posts

    For Threshold I really hope that Microsoft establishes some touchpad gestures to easily close or minimize apps on a laptop. For example, a four-finger swipe down on a touchpad to close apps would be much easier than moving a mouse cursor over to a tiny "X" on a touch pad. Windows needs to start establishing touchpad standards to help laptop users who don't always have a mouse.

  • Amy D
    7 Posts

    Maxim, thanks for commenting! You will be able to pin apps like Mail to the taskbar. Once you do, you'll see a button on the taskbar that will open the pinned apps from there. As far as menus, the title bar displays a close and minimize button and an icon that shows some quick options if you right-click it: you can choose have the app take up the right or left side of the screen, or minimize, maximize, or close the app. I hope that answers your questions--remember that you can always go to the Windows forum for more help.

  • Maxim
    9 Posts

    Will apps like Mail, Contacts and Calendar support new "classic style" menus? Will apps like mail display labels on taskbar, like traditional apps and pinned websites can?