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Windows 8.1 Out Now

17 October 2013

As reported previously (see When They’re Cleaning Windows for more details), Microsoft’s first annual update in what it promised as a yearly release cycle for their operating systems has arrived for the Windows 8 desktop, tablet and Ultrabook.

The download seeks to address some of the criticisms levelled at the original version of Windows 8, including restoring the start button and allowing a computer to boot up with the “traditional” desktop interface, bypassing the Metro-style Start screen.

In (slightly) more detail, the new features in Windows 8.1 include:

  • Start button: tapping once on this brings up the tiled interface and a long press opens up system controls
  • Start screen personalisation: more tile sizes are supported and the desktop background may be transposed or animated
  • Tile sizing: the blocks on the touchscreen interface can be in one of four sizes
  • Security and stability improvements
  • Better support for multi-tasking
  • Desktop mode: allows users the ability to avoid the tiled interface entirely
  • Keyboard shortcuts: removes the need to toggle between different on-screen keyboards when typing numbers and letters
  • Gesture control: some applications, such as those for cooking, can now be paged through without touching a screen
  • Access to new apps: core apps like Files, Reading List and Internet Explorer 11, as well as soon-to-be popular ones such as Facebook (not accessible using Windows 8)
  • Half-screen split mode for running multiple apps in the Modern interface – supports up to four apps side-by-side
  • Web browsing: Windows 8.1 machines can now display separate web pages side by side
  • Improved links to Microsoft’s Xbox game console
  • Built-in support for 3D printing: er, the jury might still be out on this one…

The update is free to those already running Windows 8, although you might wish to seek out a decent internet connection given the download is several gigabytes in file size. It should be noted that charges will apply to users who choose to upgrade to 8.1 from Windows 7.