Windows 8.1 Update Released
October 18, 2013

Windows 8.1 Update Has Arrived

Peter Suciu for – Your Universe Online

A year after the release of Microsoft’s radically new Windows 8 operating system, the company has released the first significant upgrade. On Thursday Microsoft introduced Windows 8.1 globally, and it includes a slew of new features that address some of the biggest criticisms of the OS.

Microsoft provided a preview of the changes coming to Windows 8.1 in June of this year. Most notable is that the update restores the start button – something that was notably missing with Windows 8’s so-called Modern User Interface, formerly known as Metro. Windows 8.1 also allows a computer to boot up with a more traditional desktop interface.

The new changes are far less radical than the jump from Windows 7 to Windows 8. The update will still utilize the tile-based Windows 8 Start environment with the Modern UI that features live data including email, weather updates and stock reports. The size of the blocks on the touchscreen interface can now be adjusted to one of four sizes. In addition, there is the ability to display separate web pages side by side.

Other new features include keyboard shortcuts that remove the need to toggle between different on-screen keyboards when typing numbers and/or letters; along with new gesture control that eliminates the need to even touch the screen in some applications.

The upgrade has reportedly improved support for multitasking, and now users can display up to four apps side by side and have the ability to alter the sizes of the windows in which those apps appear. The links to Microsoft’s Xbox game console and Xbox Live have also been enhanced.

As noted there is also the new desktop mode for those who prefer the more traditional Windows interface that has existed since the arrival of Windows 95.

The Windows Store, where users can find the new upgrade, has also gotten its own design makeover. Microsoft noted that there are now 110,000 apps available, up from just 10,000 that were available for the launch of Windows 8.

Windows 8 arrived last year as part of Microsoft’s attempt to capitalize on the increasing popularity of tablets and other mobile devices, but the change was a radical departure from Windows 7.

This upgrade apparently comes as way to address falling sales for traditional PCs, which have declined for six quarters in a row. The global PC industry recently hit a five-year low in early October of this year according to figures from market research firm Gartner. This downward trend in sales was further confirmed by research firm IDC, which predicted that this decline would likely continue into next year.

This is problematic for Microsoft, which has traditionally seen its primary source of revenue come from supplying the software for laptops and desktops as well as its Office software that runs on these machines.

Windows 8 and the Windows 8.1 upgrade are not the only significant changes in direction for Microsoft. In August Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive officer (CEO), announced that he would be stepping down from his post within the next year, once the company finds a suitable replacement as his successor.  “There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said in a letter to his employees.

For some users of Windows 8 the same thing might be true of the upgrade to Windows 8.1.