While Microsoft released Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 to push the PC industry toward a new touch-computing paradigm, a new Windows 8.1 update is a make-good for people who still prefer mice and keyboards.
Leaked in March but officially debuting Wednesday, the Windows 8.1 Update, as it will be formally known, may not carry the dramatic weight of the Windows 8.1 release that debuted last summer. But that doesn't mean it won't be significant. Users will download the new bits not through the Windows Store, but via a Windows Update roll-out beginning April 8, says Chris Flores, a Microsoft communications director. A separate update will be available for Windows RT.
Microsoft's challenge has been to move users into a new touch-based paradigm, embodied by Windows 8. Unfortunately, the reality is that the majority of people who own a Windows PC use a mouse and keyboard. While the number of touch-enabled PCs has grown, the total is still about 40 percent of the PCs appearing in stores, according to Chaitanya Sareen, the principal program manager lead on Windows Core User Experience team.
"When you experience Windows on a pure tablet, with no mouse and keyboard, our satisfaction is through the roof," Flores said. "But once you add a mouse and a keyboard, that brings into the equation a couple decades of muscle memory and expectations. And so this update is really geared toward harnessing those decades of muscle memory and expectation to bring people much closer to all of the newness that we've added in Windows 8."
That doesn't mean the Start page is gone, or that it's been replaced with a Windows 7-style Start menu. But all of the changes are designed to ease the transition between those making the leap from, say, the expiring Windows XP to Microsoft's latest OS.
New touches bring a sense of polish to Windows
What's new? For starters, the Update can sense when no touchscreen is present and boot to the desktop by default. You'll also find Windows 8 Metro apps that can be pinned to the desktop, as well as little touches, such as title bars that surround Metro apps, making the apps easily dismissable. There are also now power button and search glyphs on the main Start page. If this all sounds familiar, it should: Our own Brad Chacos downloaded a leaked copy of the update a few weeks ago, and documented all the changes you can expect (Microsoft itself confirmed the update, in February).
Microsoft provided PCWorld with an "official" copy of the update in advance of the show. All told, the five update packages totaled just under 800MB and required about 10 minutes to install, with four reboots.
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