Microsoft offered a preview of Windows 8.1, an updated version of its operating system, at a developers’ conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. Windows 8 was released last fall and drew complaints from users. The update responds by including some features from older versions of Windows:
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said Windows 8.1 is an attempt to “reblend the desktop and modern experience,” and appeal to both traditional PC and tablet users.
Ballmer said the changes are in response to desktop users who wanted something a more familiar on their computers.
The new system, he said, refines Windows 8 by bringing back some options Microsoft eliminated in the fall, such as the start button and the ability to boot a computer straight to the desktop.
The start menu hasn’t returned in the same form, but users can access some options from the start button, such as access to the Control Panel and Task Manager, as well as the ability to shut down or restart the computer.
Microsoft also showed off new additions to Windows, such as a Pandora-like makeover for Xbox Music, deeper search integration from Bing, and more ways to personalize the look of the operating system.
Microsoft has failed to find a sizable audience for Windows 8:
Windows 8, launched last fall, was a major departure from the company’s traditional OS. Not only did Microsoft try a new, tile-based and touch-friendly design for the new system, it also split the Windows 8 system into two related versions: Windows RT, which only runs tablet apps, and the full version, which runs PC programs.
Adoption has been fairly slow for Windows 8 — it’s still under five percent, according to Net Market Share — making some people question whether Microsoft’s big redesign bet will be seen as a Vista-like flop.
Eager to head off that narrative, the firm is addressing some of the biggest criticisms of the operating system with an update that will be available for download starting Wednesday. Perhaps the most notable of these changes is the return of the old Start button, which took a brief leave of absence with Windows 8.
One problem confronting Microsoft is that earlier Windows systems rely on older kinds of hardware that tablets and smartphones are rendering obsolete:
The issue is that there are more than a billion personal computers that use some version of Windows as it existed until last October, when Microsoft unveiled Windows 8. All those PCs are responsive to mice and keyboards, not the touch screens and other input methods like voice and gestures that represent the future of computing. Making it easier to cross that bridge is one of the goals of Windows 8.1, a preview version of which Microsoft released Wednesday.
After spending several hours with devices running Windows 8.1, it remains unclear to me whether a touch-based environment is what traditional Windows users want to accomplish the productive tasks for which they’ve come to rely on Windows. . .
One way Microsoft reaches into the past is by reviving the “Start” button in the operating system’s traditional “Desktop” mode. It appears as a little Windows icon at the bottom left corner of the screen.
However, other than the location and its general look, the button doesn’t do what it once did. A single tap brings you back to the “Modern” interface, instead of the traditional Start menu, which used to bring up a whole host of convenient items like recent programs and commonly used folders.
Another way Microsoft attempts to appease its established PC user base is by allowing people to launch their computers directly into the “Desktop” environment. But again, with no way to access most programs except through the “Modern” interface, there is little cause for celebration among traditionalists.
For more on Windows 8, continue reading here.