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The Windows 8.1 Update finally makes Microsoft's Metro future PC-friendly

Brad Chacos | April 9, 2014
With today's free spring update for Windows 8.1, Microsoft is pushing out more than mere tweaks and bug fixes. It's pushing out a message: "We're listening," Microsoft is whispering. "PC users, we want you back."

With today's free spring update for Windows 8.1, Microsoft is pushing out more than mere tweaks and bug fixes. It's pushing out a message: "We're listening," Microsoft is whispering. "PC users, we want you back."

And amazingly, this digital love letter should woo over all but the most obstinate of the PC faithful. The Windows 8.1 Update is still not quite perfect, but it atones for Windows 8's most egregious sins, finally transforming Windows 8 into a desirable operating system even for diehard keyboard and mouse users. There's little reason not to migrate to Windows 8 if you're on the hunt for a new PC now.

Equal footing

Simply put, the Windows 8.1 Update no longer treats keyboard-and-mouse users as second-class citizens — a first in the new-look Windows 8 era.

A large part of the reason Windows 8 received such fierce backlash was because it simply pushed too far, too hard, be it by intentional design or a sheer lack of time. The changes were drastic — no more Start menu, arcane commands for summoning invisible menus, Live Tiles everywhere — and Microsoft all but rubbed your face in them. You will learn.

No more. The original Windows 8.1 update began dialing back Windows 8's heavy finger focus mere months after the operating system's launch, bringing back a Start button and giving users the (deeply buried) option to boot directly to the desktop.

Tuesday's new Windows 8.1 Update continues down the path of refinement, and it utterly shines because Microsoft has finally decided to let a tablet be a tablet and a PC be a PC. Ironically, Microsoft is closer now than it ever was to embodying the "No compromises" tagline originally spouted with Windows 8 vanilla.

How does it feel?

Unlike the one-size-fits-all nature of its predecessors, the Windows 8.1 Update adjusts its behavior depending on your hardware configuration. If you're using traditional PC hardware, it'll boot you directly to the desktop, and the operating system will open media files in the desktop-bound Windows Photo Viewer and Windows Media Player software, rather than dumping you into the Metro Photos, Videos, and Music apps.

Being able to stay in the interface you prefer rather than being tossed willy-nilly between the desktop and Modern interfaces is absolutely wonderful. It's too bad that it's taken two updates to get here.

The magic doesn't end there, though. The traditional right-click context menu now appears on the Start screen for PC users, eliminating the need to move your mouse all the way down to a pop-up options bar at the bottom of the screen when you're adjusting Live Tiles. And you can say sayonara to Windows 8's awkward click-and-drag controls for resizing Modern-style apps, too. Apps now sport a mouse-friendly menu bar up top, with options for closing, "Snap" multitasking, and minimizing the apps with a click.

 

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