Windows 8.1 still features the dual worlds that Windows 8 created when it came out last October. On one hand, it features a touch-enabled tile interface resembling what's found in tablet computers. On the other, there's the old desktop mode where the keyboard and mouse still reign. The update adds some new finger- and gesture-friendly shortcuts for touch-based apps, while restoring some respect for the desktop mode that a billion PC users have become accustomed to.
The release comes as sales of traditional desktop and laptop computers continue to decline because consumers are spending money instead on the latest smartphones and tablets. It also comes at a time of transition for
The Window 8.1 update is free for current owners of Windows 8. Downloads started at
The changes range from the cosmetic to improved functionality:
RESTORING RESPECT FOR THE DESKTOP
START ME UP — The Start button is back in desktop mode, although not the way it was before Windows 8 came along. In Windows 7 and before, a click on Start would have brought up programs and important folders in a list. Now, one tap on Start flips you back to the new tile interface, where you can click or tap tiles to open programs. A long press brings up crucial settings such as the Control Panel.
BOOT TO DESKTOP — You can now start up the machine in desktop mode, bypassing the tiles for a short time. That removes some of the headache for companies that want to use Windows 8 but don't want to buy a touch-screen monitor for every employee.
TOUCH AND GESTURE UPDATES
ONSCREEN KEYBOARD SWIPES — The onscreen keyboard now includes the ability to type numbers or punctuation marks by swiping up or away from certain keys on the standard "QWERTY" layout, eliminating the need to toggle between numeric and alphabetic layouts. You can also select from suggested words mid-stream using side swipes and taps on the virtual spacebar.
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