While big changes to Windows are scheduled for next year’s “Threshold” (Windows 9) update, Microsoft is getting set to release a relatively minor update to its desktop operating system. “Windows 8.1 Update 1” is set for release this spring and a recently leaked build reveals the changes that users can expect.
Boot to Desktop by Default: Microsoft already introduced a boot-to-desktop option with last year’s Windows 8.1, but starting with Update 1, users on traditional non-touch PCs will see the option enabled by default. Those running the operating system on touch screen devices will still be brought to the familiar Start Screen by default, but both categories of users can change the setting manually if desired.
Metro App Title Bars: For Windows 8-Style apps (a.k.a. “Metro”), users with mouse and keyboard configurations will see a new title bar at the top of these formerly seamless full-screen experiences. Visible briefly upon launch and again when the mouse cursor is hovered near the top of the screen, these title bars give desktop Windows users quick access to quit, minimize, and split functions. The bar also acts as a visible “grab” area for users still learning the touch-centric Windows 8 interface.
Start Screen Buttons: New power and search buttons are visible on the Start Screen next to a more prominently displayed user name. These allow mouse and keyboard users to quickly find and select search functions or trigger a power action such as a shutdown or restart. While things could change before a final release, the current build only displays the power button for non-touchscreen devices, while the new search button is visible for all devices.
Pin Metro Apps to the Desktop Taskbar: This is the first step to enabling Metro apps to run windowed on the Desktop, something that is scheduled for the “Threshold” Windows 9 update. While you can’t run those Metro apps on the desktop yet, you can pin them to the Desktop Taskbar, making it easy for users still transitioning to the new user interface. Users can access this functionality by right-clicking on a Start Screen live tile and selecting “Pin to Taskbar.” Any Metro apps that are currently running will also appear in the Taskbar when the user switches back to the Desktop.
Right-Click Menus on Start Screen: The same right-click menu that lets you pin an app to the Taskbar, mentioned above, also now lets users resize tiles, pin tiles to the Start Screen, and perform other context-aware functions. These functions were all available in previous versions of Windows 8, but through the touch interface and charms bar. Incorporating them into a mouse and keyboard-centric control method is yet another way Microsoft is trying to ease the fears of longtime Windows users.
And that last sentence is really the point of all of this. With the death of Windows XP looming, Microsoft is faced with literally hundreds of millions of customers still reluctant to update to its latest operating system. Many of these customers are businesses, replete with employees trained exclusively to use the traditional Windows interface. The radical changes brought by the original version of Windows 8 in late 2012 proved to be too much for many of these users, and so Microsoft has been scrambling to accommodate traditional user expectations while at the same time paving the way for the future of the operating system.
Final judgement on whether this accommodating strategy will prove to be successful will have to wait until Windows 9 next year, but many longtime Microsoft watchers aren’t optimistic.
Windows 8.1 Update 1 will be a free update for all Windows 8.1 users. It’s expected to be released to the public in April following Microsoft’s BUILD conference, where we’ll also likely get more details about Windows 9.