Timed seemingly to coincide with the end of support for Windows XP, Microsoft have this week released the first major update to Windows 8 since 8.1, simply titled Windows 8.1 Update. This brings fewer major changes compared to 8.1, but still has many that are welcomed and continue to try to blur the lines between the two sometimes completely disparate parts of the operating system.
While I don’t have one to test it on, my understanding is that functionality on tablet or touch enabled systems will remain more or less unchanged, with some detection on the part of Windows to determine what kind of system it is running on and adding more integration between the new Windows 8 interface for mouse and keyboard users.
The biggest change is that, on a non-touch system at least, the previously full screen only Windows Apps now have a title bar with minimise and close functions like any standard Windows program, meaning the click and drag down swipe gesture that we’ve all finally gotten used to is no longer required as you can now simply click X to close. The title bar is hidden by default, but appears when you move the mouse to the top of the screen – it is still draggable from here if you wish however for snapping or to close it. The apps still only work in full screen or snapped, so you can’t make them windowed.
Apps can now also be pinned to the taskbar, which means that you can use the now standard peek feature to see the apps you have open. The Windows Store is pinned here by default when you install the update, but this can of course be removed if you wish. The 8.1 Update also turns the boot to desktop option on as standard, but if you did prefer to boot to the Start Screen this can be reverted.
Speaking of the Start Screen, this has also had a few tweaks. Power and search buttons have been added next to the user account, for even simpler shutting down of the system. I’m not too sure about the need for the search button however, as if you’re on the Start Screen anyway you’ve always been able to simply start typing to search, but this may be more useful for touch users as presumably it would pop open the on screen keyboard automatically instead of having to go through the charms.
New Apps and programs are still not added to the Start Screen automatically, however you’re now informed when there are new apps available, and these are all highlighted on the Apps view, so you can quickly see exactly what has been added.
Apps on the Start Screen now also give a more recognisable context menu when right clicked on instead of the bar of options along the bottom of the screen. All the same options are still here, they’re simply presented in a more familiar manner, and as you’re not needing to scroll to the bottom of the screen to choose what you want also makes it all a bit quicker.
The sensitivity on the hot corners has been tweaked, fixing one of my main problems with it. Since installing the Update I haven’t found myself getting stuck in the charms bar while moving from one screen to another, and to be honest if that was the only update it had to me it would have been worth it.
Less noticeable, at least visually, Microsoft have somehow managed to massively shrink the install footprint to around 16GB, without any loss in features or performance. This is of course great, as particularly for those with an SSD this gives loads more space.
Interestingly, the Update is being treated as a mandatory update. While you aren't technically forced to install it, you'll not see any future Windows Updates from the start of May if it isn't installed.
While not containing as many changes or new features as 8.1, I feel that the Update does a worthwhile job of continuing to refine Windows 8, and the extra integration of the new style apps helps to make them feel less bolted on than before. I was never a detractor of 8 anyway, but do find these changes make things that little bit easier, and that’s always something to be welcomed.