Release date 17th October 2013
Eagerly awaiting update for Windows 8, Windows 8.1 is finally here for all to download. 8.1 is an update which will be released through Windows Updates, but you can also download it from the official Microsoft website or Windows Store or in the Windows store built into your start menu.
The start button is back!
The Windows 8.1 update sort of brings back the Start button which now sits in the lower-left hand corner and is always visible but it doesn’t work in the way the Start button does in Windows 7 and earlier. You no longer need to hover with your mouse to make it appear, but it’s not the tree of apps that you once knew.
Will Windows 8.1 come pre-installed with my new PC?
Microsoft says PCs sold after 17 October will come with Windows 8.1 pre-installed. It’s not clear how much back inventory will still have Windows 8. However, Microsoft says it plans to release regular updates in this way to the Windows 8 operating system, a trick it’s already started using with its Windows Phone OS for smartphones. As it’s free, any PC you bought prior to 17 October that came with Windows 8 is eligible for the update.
Upgrading to 8.1 from Windows 7?
Users of Windows 7 O/S and below looking to upgrade to Windows 8.1 will need to purchase the software from around £75.
Has the Windows 8 Start Screen changed?
No. The Start screen in Windows 8.1 is still there just like in Windows 8, but it has been improved and now offers better customisation. The Windows 8.1 Start screen now features a variety of tile sizes including a new large and new small tile, and Microsoft has made it easier to name groups and rearrange tiles too.
You can now select multiple apps all at once, resize them, uninstall them, or rearrange them. People who had accidentally moving tiles on their Start screen, in Windows 8.1 you can now press and hold (or right click) to move things around more it selections.
An attempt to de-clutter the Start screen, new apps are installed in the apps view rather than automatically adding them to the start screen like the up and coming Windows 8 OS for Windows Phone.
New features are in Windows 8.1
Windows 8.1 you get the ability to change your tile size to 4 possible sizes, small, wide, medium and large. Previously only 2 possible sizes. This allows you to customise your start screen to fit more on with what you want to see.
Windows Store for Windows 8.1
Windows 8.1 store has improved Windows Store. The new Store has been designed to show more info than before in Windows 8 with detailed lists of the most important top free apps, new releases, and picks for you on the homepage. An enhanced search facility is available in the upper right hand corner for finding the apps you want.
Automatic App Update
Apps now update automatically in the background as well as they come through the Store.
PC Settings in charm
The updated PC Settings gives you access to all your settings on your device without having to go to the Control Panel on the desktop.
Things like changing your display resolution, setting power options, viewing your device properties. let me do Windows Update, and even join a domain – all from PC Settings.
Background and Lock Screen
Microsoft wants 8.1 to offer more personalisation through enhanced options for customisation. You can now change the Start Screen background color with a new color slider tool, for instance, or you can change it to a photo. The lock screen will also display a slideshow of your photos.
Match your desktop wallpaper in your Start home
Also offering a bit more customisation within Windows 8.1, Microsoft gives the ability to match the desktop wallpaper with the one in Start home. Now though you can choose the same background for both, including custom wallpapers. This way there’s a more thematic narrative running through the design, one of your own choosing. In the Charms menu, under settings and then personalise, you will be able to see your current desktop background as one of the options.
Boot to Desktop
Since the tiled start UI in Windows 8.1 may not be useful if you’re on a desktop or laptop, Microsoft has included the ability to start your computer from boot at the traditional Windows desktop. In the new Taskbar and Navigation properties menu screen, which is accessible by right-clicking the taskbar at the bottom of the desktop screen, there is an option under the Navigation tab that you can tick. Click on the box next to “Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in”, close and restart. You will now automatically boot to desktop.
If you want to change it back, you’ll have to un-tick the same option.
When swiping from right to left on the screen in Windows 8.1 you will still get the Search charm, but selecting it and entering a search term serves some different results. In Windows 8.1, the Search charm will provide global search results powered by Bing in a rich, simple-to-read, aggregated view of many content sources (the web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions you can take) to provide the best “answer” for your query. If you aren’t online you will still get the local results by scrolling to the left.
50/50 split screen apps
Windows 8.1 will allow you to run two apps side by side rather than one thin and one large as is the case with Windows 8.
“You can resize apps to any size you want, share the screen between two apps, or have up to three apps on each screen if you have a multiple displays connected, you can have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time and the Start Screen can stay open on one monitor,” says Microsoft.
On higher-resolution devices you can run three or four app windows side by side for those who really want to embrace multitasking on the same screen at the same time.
Internet Explorer 11
Yep, a new OS update means a new version of Internet Explorer. IE11 offers even better touch performance, faster page load times and several other new features we think you will enjoy. For example, you can now adjust the appearance of modern IE11 to always show the address bar and you can have as many open tabs as you like.
The new SkyDrive app gives you access to your files that are on your device or in the cloud, and files are accessible even when offline says Microsoft. Expect features like auto picture uploads and being able to set the SkyDrive as the default location for your files. Like Apple’s iCloud for the iPhone and iPad, there is also a suggestion that you’ll be able to backup your entire device to SkyDrive.
You will also now be able manage your SkyDrive from the PC Settings as well and see how much available storage you have, and of course buy more if needed.
Expect sync’ed tabs and greater sharing of details between the PCs you own. Microsoft has told Pocket-lint many times that in the future we will just be able to log in and get working straight away and Windows 8.1 could see the start of that becoming a reality.
With Windows 8.1, when you log on to your device with your Microsoft account (Outlook.com by default), your device “magically becomes personalised” says Microsoft with your settings and apps.
New Microsoft apps
Expect new apps from Microsoft. So far details on the web suggest a new Sound Recorder app, a Calculator app (exciting), and some new Alarm features.
There is also talk of something called Movie Moments, and features which, like Apple Mountain Lion, will let you turn on a Do Not Disturb feature so you don’t get bothered by notifications when you are trying to focus on that all important presentation.
The idea here is that users are able to lock down a device to a single application so the computer Windows 8.1 is running on can not be used in store or in an office where you don’t want them messing around surfing the internet.
Swipe up for Apps
According to leaked build versions of Windows 8.1 you are now able to swipe up to reveal your apps list. Easy.
Picture frame and camera access on Lock Screen
Like the iPad you’ll be able to turn your Windows 8.1 tablet into a picture frame when you aren’t using it, and likewise also set whether you want access to the camera when the screen is locked. It’s a feature already used in Windows Phone 8 so it makes sense to see it here too, especially for tablets.
Greater touch support
Microsoft has already openly confirmed that touch gets even more focus in Windows 8.1. In a Microsoft Research video demoing Fresh Paint for Windows Blue at TechFest 2013 Microsoft said it was looking to “extend touch in even more dramatic fashion”.
Alongside the new Paint app, the Camera app has also been updated. It will notably capture a photo before and after you hit the shutter button, ensuring you won’t miss a good shot.
Microsoft has confirmed, at TechEd North America, that Windows 8.1 gets Miracast support built in.
“Present your work wirelessly without any dongles needed; simply project your content to a Miracast-enabled device by pairing the device through Bluetooth or NFC. Miracast will then use the available Wi-Fi connection to let you lean back and project wire-free,” the company has announced.
NFC tap-to-pair printing
Users can now tap their Windows 8.1 device against an enterprise NFC-enabled printer and you’re all set to print. You don’t need to buy new printers to take advantage of this; you can simply put an NFC tag on your existing printers to enable this functionality.
Wi-Fi Direct printing
Windows 8.1 will allow you to connect to Wi-Fi Direct printers without adding additional drivers or software on your Windows 8.1 device, forming a peer-to-peer network between your device and the printer. Nice.
This will let you turn your Windows 8.1 mobile broadband-enabled PC or tablet into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing other devices to connect and access the internet – handy if you’ve got a SIM car in it.
Microsoft has made it easier to use Windows without a touchscreen. When you hover a mouse in the corners, for instance, you can customise the function so it brings you to the all apps page or back to a previous app.
No more downloading Skype
You won’t have to download Skype anymore. Anyone who hasn’t tried Skype will get it when they upgrade their operating system to Windows 8.1 or purchase a Windows 8.1 PC. Once you have Windows 8.1, just log on to access Skype on the Start Screen. It’ll be available as the default communications experience in Windows 8.1, replacing Microsoft’s Windows 8 Messaging app.
Reading List brings Read It Later
Windows 8.1 has added a Reading List app that runs with Internet Explorer. Like OS X Mavericks does with Safari, it allows you to save a virtual reading list of articles from around the web.