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Review: Windows 8.1 Update offers an olive branch for mouse users

Woody Leonhard | March 20, 2014
Windows 8.1 Update brings a tiny handful of mouse-centric improvements and a hodgepodge of interface tweaks

The new Metro IE also has the wrench-icon Options entry — at the bottom — that provides a shortcut to the Options pane. Previously, you had to swipe from the right, choose the Settings charm, then choose Options. Metro users must have lots of discoverability problems with charms.

The new Enterprise Mode has seen some serious press, but I've noticed very few details. For example, corporate IE mavens want to know how Enterprise Mode differs from the old Compatibility View settings. We'll no doubt learn more in the weeks ahead.

To enable Enterprise Mode, run gpedit.msc as an administrator. Choose Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Internet Explorer, check the boxes to set both the Let Users Turn On and Use Enterprise Mode checkbox and the Use the Enterprise Mode IE Website List checkbox to enabled. Reboot, and in IE, press Alt, then choose Tools > Enterprise Mode.

Figure 4: The taskbar now appears in all Metro apps, as well, including the Metro Start screen.

Other changes
Windows 8.1 Update brings many more little changes. Many of them should have been in Win8 from the get-go. For example, in Windows 8.1 Update, the default apps for viewing pictures and media on the Desktop doesn't propel you to the Metro side any more: You get connected to Desktop programs that can handle the file type just fine.

SkyDrive has been renamed to OneDrive, reflecting the change Microsoft-wide.

There's a new Disk Space Tracker in one of Metro's PC Settings apps. To see it, bring up the Charms bar (or press Windows-C) and choose Settings. At the bottom, choose PC Settings. On the left, choose PC and devices, then choose Disk Space.

The Disk Space Tracker doesn't have a fraction of the features you would expect from a free disk analysis utility, but it's marginally better than the Desktop's Disk Compact command.

Although it won't make any difference for those of you who are, uh, updating with Windows 8.1 Update, Microsoft managed to shrink Windows 8.1 considerably. Windows 8.1 Update can reportedly run on a machine with 1GB of RAM and with 16GB of storage. Smaller footprints lead to smaller, cheaper machines — and that's good for everybody.

While the Windows 8.1 Update won't win any converts from the Windows 7 Desktop trenches, it shows enough movement in the right direction that we know Microsoft is listening, at least a little bit. If you commonly use a mouse with your Windows 8.1 PC, Windows 8.1 Update is not very inspiring, but it's certainly worth having. If you use a mouse infrequently or not at all, the promised security and performance improvements may be worth the effort to update, but that's slim pickings.


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