About a year after releasing Windows 8, Microsoft is making Windows 8.1 available as a free update starting October 17th. You can also purchase a downloadable copy. Starting October 18th you’ll be able to buy boxed copies in stores, and odds are that most new computers on store shelves will have Windows 8.1 preloaded.

For the most part Windows 8.1 looks an awful lot like its predecessor. It has a full-screen Start Screen, a built-in app store called the Windows Store, and an emphasis on touch-friendly apps with the new “Modern” user interface. But there’s also a desktop mode that works almost exactly like Windows 7.

If you look a bit closer, Microsoft has fine tuned the operating system with better support for large screens and small, improved multitasking, the return of the Start Button (but not menu), and much more.

update windows

Upgrading from Windows 8 is as simple as opening the Windows Store on your device and tapping the big “Update Windows” button. The process can take some time — on my laptop I had to download 3.6GB of data.

When the process is complete, here are some of the changes you’ll see:

  • There are support for new backgrounds and new tile sizes on the Start Screen.
  • There’s a new option to boot straight to the desktop, bypassing the Start Screen.
  • You can set the same background for the Start Screen and desktop, to give Windows a more unified look.
  • The Start Button hangs out in the lower left corner, letting you get to the Start Screen with a single click.
  • You can run up to 4 Modern UI apps side by side and adjust their sizes.
  • Bing search is built into the OS, letting you search your device and the web.
  • Skype for Windows 8.1 comes pre-installed.
  • Many of the Core Microsoft apps including Xbox Music and even the Windows Store have been updated.

There are also some updates that are harder to see, including support for Windows Store apps that are up to 8 gigabytes, improvements in DirectX, and more.

Windows 8.1 multitasking

It’s unlikely those changes will be enough to appease folks who absolutely hate Microsoft’s decision to make one operating system with two user interfaces, one which seems to be designed for touchscreen input and the other which is still focused on keyboard and touchpad (or maybe digital pen) input.

But for folks that are already using Windows 8, the relatively minor update seems to be full of small improvments.

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7 replies on “Windows 8.1 hits the streets (and maybe your PC)”

  1. Still crap….get Linux for the desktop and Android for the tablet.

    R.I.P. Microsoft…blame it on the Ballmer.

  2. As a PC gamer I can tell you that Windows beyond 7 holds no additional value to me unless someone know something I don’t.

    1. For gaming, for now, there isn’t much besides access to Metro games… but in a few years that could change as newer standard only W8 fully supports slowly become dominant then there could be a good reason… Along with the fact Metro apps and games will be far better developed by then than they are now…

      While any other reason will depend on what you consider a value or not of the many features W8 has that W7 doesn’t…

      Native Hyper-V is handy for those who like to run VM’s… Hobbyists could like the fact there’s native support for things like 3D printing, which could become increasingly important for the average consumer over the next few years as the technology gets even more practical and wide spread…

      Those seeking max battery life for laptops and tablets will have little choice but to get Windows 8 or Android as those are the only two right now that properly support mobile power optimization and advance power sipping states needed to support max battery life… The more they optimize the power efficiency of the hardware then the more important it becomes for the OS to support it… So Windows 7 can increasingly be seen as a battery hog as Haswell and later Broadwell start making it possible to get a lot more battery life than traditional systems could offer…

      Along with many other things that Windows 8 brings to the tablet… It’s not just a UI change but a lot of under the hood changes and inclusion of new features and support of new technology…

      But, if you’re still using a present to older generation desktop then Windows 7 may continue to be the preferred choice for now as Windows 8 main benefit is to those who use a wide range of devices and need or want support for mobile features as well as traditional functionality…

      1. First-gen Core i7 920, nothing super special.
        Just need access to Steam for playing my games basically.
        Thanks for your insight!

        You always have an interesting angle on the topics here.

        1. First gen Core i7 920 is still a good performer… For desktops, there won’t really be much pressure to upgrade until Skylake comes out 2015-16…

          Broadwell will mainly just further advance the mobile optimization started with Haswell, being mainly just a FAB advance and primarily intended for mobile products, but the next gen technology will be provided by the Skylake update for things like DDR4 RAM, PCIe 4.0, SATA Express, etc. that should finally ramp up the max performance they can offer enough to really justify the cost of upgrading and by then you can revisit the question of using Windows 8, which should be either 8.2 or 8.3 by then as they’re updating it every year and should be a better overall experience by then…

          Graphic card technology is also set to improve by then as new standards, technology, and efficiency improvements they’re putting in place now start to pay off by then…

  3. Does highest level consumer version have NFS support this time like the highest level consumer version of Windows 7?

  4. Would read better this way:

    Windows 8.1 gets hit on the street, delayed until feels better.

Comments are closed.