Microsoft used the BUILD 2014 developer conference in San Francisco to unveil the first major pack of improvements for Windows 8.1, simply called Windows 8.1 Update and available right now for MSDN developers.
Windows 8.1 Update comes with improvements mostly aimed at making the modern operating system more appropriate for desktop computers, including shortcuts for the classic Control Panel in the PC settings screen across the Modern UI.
At the same time, it brings new menus on the Start screen that resemble the traditional context menu options, thus making Metro easier to use with a mouse, as well as a search box and easy to reach power controls.
Another major improvement in Windows 8.1 Update is the addition of options to pin Metro apps to the taskbar and thus launch them without the need for accessing the Start screen, which clearly gives the Modern UI another chance to succeed. Metro apps now have their own title bar and close and minimize buttons, so it’s easier to control them with a mouse.
“We wanted to make Windows 8.1 easier to use for people with mice and keyboards,” Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president and manager for Windows Phone Program Management at Microsoft, said during the BUILD 2014 opening keynote.
“The work that we’ve done to make touch great is unaffected by these changes,” he added, emphasizing that touch remains a key focus for the modern operating system.
A PC settings tile is also placed on the Start screen because mouse users expect to see the Control Panel with the first click, Belfiore continued.
The Windows Store will be pre-pinned to the taskbar to easily reach Metro apps, he said. The store update is going to become mouse and keyboard friendly and all developers are encouraged to do the same changes for their apps as well.
Internet Explorer 11 has received a brand new Enterprise Mode that allows enterprises to set custom compatibility for specific apps and thus keep support for older applications.
Just as promised, Windows 8.1 Update will go live for all consumers on April 8, together with the other patches prepared by Microsoft for Patch Tuesday.
Windows 8.1 Update is a major change for Microsoft’s modern operating system that has now failed to excite, with most complaints aimed at Redmond’s increased focus on touch features and less on the traditional desktop. Ever since it got to see daylight, Windows 8 was criticized for the touch options it brings, which basically forced many users stick to Windows 7 unless they were buying a touch-capable device.
As you can see, the software giant is planning to address all these complaints by tweaking its operating system in such a way that it would better tackle the PC market and thus make the whole platform a bit more appropriate for those still relying on mice and keyboards as the main input devices.
Of course, the PC industry clearly needs all these improvements, so Windows 8.1 Update is expected to significantly boost sales in the coming months and bring more users to the new modern platform. Additionally, it’s also supposed to contribute to the demise of Windows XP, the OS version that’ll be completely retired on April 8.