Windows 8.1 launches, with some familiar touches


This Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 image shows a pre-release version of Windows 8.1 on a tablet in Los Angeles. (Ryan Nakashima/AP)
October 17, 2013

Microsoft’s latest operating system update, Windows 8.1 is now available. The new update brings back at least one of the familiar touches that users missed after the company launched its major system overhaul, Windows 8, last year: the start button.

The button has become a sort of rallying point for Windows 8 critics who were not big fans of the decision to change the look of the operating system to a grid-like pattern meant to work on touchscreens in addition to a keyboard and mouse. Consequently, it was one of the main rollbacks of the Windows 8.1 update, along with the ability to boot the computer straight to the desktop rather than to the Microsoft 8 start screen.

The return of the start button, however, doesn’t mean the return of the start button menu — instead, hitting the start button will take users to the start screen. If you want o bring back the old experience and start menu functionality, you’ll still have to use the apps that developers have built post-Windows 8 , such as Start Menu 8 or Start Menu Reviver.

Apart from the start button, however, there are plenty of other changes in Windows 8.1: support for gesture control, the ability to control the size of tiles on the start screen, better support for multitasking and improvements aimed at making computers run more efficiently.

In some ways, the hullabaloo over Windows 8, and the subsequent update, showcases one of the core problems Microsoft has in moving from the old to the new. Windows 8 was a bold push into the touch and tablet world, but the system still needed enough of its legacy look to keep it familiar. In the end, Microsoft ended up pleasing very few people with the new design because Windows 8 felt too split between older and newer audiences.

That’s going to be one of the biggest challenges facing the company — and whoever it taps to be its new chief executive — in the coming months. A vocal group of folks called for Steve Ballmer to step down, and some of them are calling for Microsoft chairman and co-founder Bill Gates to leave, as well.

But there are also plenty of people, including Microsoft’s bread-and-butter business clients, who aren’t that happy about big changes. Pleasing both factions will be a balancing act as Microsoft tries to move ahead.

Related stories:

Windows 8.1 to be ready for consumers Oct. 18, Microsoft says

Windows 8.1: All about Microsoft’s latest update

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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