Today Microsoft have official announced Windows 8.1 Update a set of changes which seems to be aimed at making Windows 8.1 work better with a mouse/keyboard and integrate modern apps with the desktop.

UPDATE: Here is Windows 8.1 Update running on my Surface 2

User Experience Changes

Modern apps (Windows Store apps) are better integrated with the desktop. You can now see modern apps in the Windows task bar where you can interact with then like a tradition program, you can mouse over the icon to view a preview of the app and clicking on it opens the app. When you are using an app with a mouse and keyboard you will see and minimize and close buttons

There are now notification of new installed aps from the store. To help users workout where their new installed apps have gone there are notification of new installed aps from the store. After installing an app you will see a notification saying how many new apps are installed, its located where the little down arrow button is that takes you to the all apps list. When you open up the all apps list it highlights the new apps (as well as having the NEW label on the apps). This was done because users couldn’t find their newly installed apps.

A context menu has been added for mouse users on Windows Tiles. So when you right click on tile you get a context menu rather than the buttons at the bottom of the screen, the options are the same but it saves you moving your mouse down to the bottom of the screen to select the option.

Another change to make discovery of features a little easier are Power and Search buttons on the start screen. The search button opens up the search charm and the power button gives you the same power options as the power button in the setting charms. The fact that Microsoft have had to add these buttons in shows that users are not taking to the swipe in charms design which is a shame but if it makes Windows a little easier to use for new uses then it has to be a good idea.

Other changes include a link to the traditional control panel when you go to PC Settings. Microsoft do say they have tried to reduce the need to go to control panel by adding more items to the PC Settings app but at least the link is there. You also manage and remove known networks.

Reduced Hardware Specs

For Windows 8.1 Update the hardware specs have been lowered. They have done this via a new boot option and could give you around 13GB free after installing Windows on a 16GB SSD device. Currently there would be very little space even if you could get it to install on such a small drive and on my 32GB tablet I still over have a few GB free so this change is very welcome. Installing the update will not give you a load of space back, it is part of the install process so OEMS will ship it on new devices. Also 1GB of RAM is supported so we should see some very cheap Windows devices shipping soon.

Windows 8.1 Update also adds support for new hardware which means it will support the new 64bit Atom processors coming from Intel soon.

Enterprise Changes

Enterprise Mode for IE 11 has Improves IE 8 compatibility. IT departments can control Internet Explorer and run sites in Enterprise Mode via Group Policy (you can also do it manually). So if you need to use Internet Explorer in IE8 mode an XML file can be distributed and it will tell IE to switch modes. This is really important for business where many Intranet apps and business applications want you to use IE 8. IE 11 will be available for Windows 8.1 Update and Windows 7. Windows 8.1 Update has improved Mobile Device Management so you can do things like restrict apps.

Incremental Improvements

Overall these seem nice incremental changes to Windows 8.1 designed to make using Windows easier with a keyboard and mouse. Store apps feel more integrated with the desktop and some of the other changes like the power button make discovering Windows features easier. The reduced hardware specs mean we will see low cost Windows devices hit the market soon, how good they actually will be remains to be seen. I would have liked to have seen more improvements with the modern UI and a reduced dependency on the desktop but I can’t understand Microsoft wanting to address user feedback.

The update is available today as part of the Windows 8.1 images on MSDN and will be pushed out via Windows Update April 8th (patch Tuesday).

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