Microsoft has released one major update so far for the Windows 8 operating system that raised the version of it to Windows 8.1.
The update corrected several usability issues that users of Windows 8 experienced, for instance the lack of tile resolutions, no option to set a unified background image, or the option to boot straight to the desktop.
Windows 8.1 Update 1, or the Windows 8.1 Feature Pack, builds on that foundation, but addresses mostly issues that are specific to mouse and keyboard users.
Windows 8 has been designed with touch-control in mind, and while it is possible to use the system with a mouse and keyboard, it is apparent that the solution is not optimal, especially so on the Start Screen, but also partially on the desktop thanks to the Charms menu for instance.
With Windows 8.1 Update 1 come changes that improve the system for mouse and keyboard users, and only slight for touch users.
Several changes have been made to the start screen area for instance. When you right-click a tile now, you get a context menu right at the location of the mouse cursor, and not the toolbar at the bottom anymore which means less mouse moving to select actions from the menu.
Shutdown and search buttons are now displayed on the start screen which improve the usability for mouse and keyboard users further. Here you can select sleep, shutdown or restart when you left-click on the icon.
The account icon next provides you with right-click options to lock the system, sign out, and to change your account picture.
You will also notice that apps that run on the screen have a titlebar now that resembles the bar that desktop programs display. While it hides after a couple of seconds, it can be displayed again by moving the mouse in that area and leaving it there for a short bit.
That toolbar enables you to close the app window, to minimize the app, or to split it. If you minimize it, or use other means of hiding the app, you will notice that the app appears on the taskbar displayed on the desktop part of the system.
A click on it opens it up again, while a right-click and the selection of close window from the context menu shuts it down.
You can disable the display of apps on the taskbar though.
- Right-click on the taskbar while you are on the desktop and select properties from the context menu.
- Select Taskbar, and remove the checkmark next to "Show Windows Store apps on the taskbar".
Internet Explorer Enterprise Mode
As far as other changes are concerned. Internet Explorer 11 ships with a new Enterprise Mode which allows businesses to select which sites should be loaded in Internet Explorer 8 compatibility mode. It is not clear if this feature will only be available in the Enterprise version of Windows 8.
I checked Internet Explorer 11's Emulation menu after installing the update (by hitting F12 and selecting Emulation from the menu or pressing Ctrl-8) and the new compatibility mode did not appear on a Windows 8.1 Pro system.
Another feature that allegedly made it into Windows 8.1 Update 1 is that boot to desktop is on by default for mouse and keyboard users.
Apps View changes
The apps view has been improved on the Start Screen. New items are now highlighted with a different -- lighter -- background color so that you can spot them easily here.
The second option that you have here is to increase the number of apps displayed on the screen. You do that by opening the Charms Bar with Windows-C, selecting Settings > Tiles, and switching "Show more apps in Apps view" to Yes.
It is clear that windows 8.1 Update 1 is not a massive update. It makes laser targeted changes to the Windows 8.1 operating system to improve its mouse and keyboard friendliness.
I like the context menu that Microsoft added to the Start Screen, even though it feels quite alien here, as apps do not make use of context menus at all.
Still, it saves quite a bit of mouse movement when you work with apps on the start screen.
The shut down and log off options that are displayed all the time are also useful, as they speed things up if you want to change the power state of your PC when you are on the Start Screen.
Sure, you can just hit Alt-F4 and be even faster, but most users probably use the mouse for that instead.
The real problem however is not the usability issues. It is great that Microsoft is fixing those, don't get me wrong, but the main issue is that Windows 8 has two interfaces that could not be more different in terms of how they work.
The feature pack is just another baby step into consolidating those two interfaces. While I cannot say if Microsoft will do so when Windows 9 comes along in 2015 or before that, I'd estimate that we will see a unified interface by 2015 again that will resolve this major issue.
Anyway, if you are running Windows 8.1 and you are using a mouse and keyboard as your main ways of input, then you will certainly like what the update brings along.