Windows 8.1 Update released at Microsoft Build on April 2 can be viewed as both a step backward and a step forward for Microsoft’s vision of a hybrid OS that’s equally comfortable on tablets, slates, laptops, and desktops. In the first version of its daring two-in-one OS bet, the company put nearly all the focus on the touch interface. With this update, mouse and keyboard users finally get the attention they’ve been clamoring for.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been less than a year and half since Windows 8’s initial release in October 2012, and we’ve already gotten a third revision. But, as the lack of a new version number or even point number indicates, Windows 8.1 Update is hardly a completely revamped piece of software.
Some may be surprised that, unlike Apple’s updated Mavericks OS X, Windows 8.1 Update brings no actual new features—there’s no new ebook reader or map app (it already includes the latter, and you can get the former in the Windows app Store) such as Mavericks added. What Windows 8.1 Update does bring is a collection of new interface elements and behaviors for mouse users. Best of all, none of these features requires learning anything new—they’re all derived from familiar old ways of interacting with PCs. And that’s not all: The update includes about 200 performance tweaks that benefit all users—of both touch and non-touch PCs.
Even the process of getting the update itself follows this streamlined approach: Starting April 8, Windows 8.1 users will simply receive it through the standard Windows Update mechanism—it’s not necessary to download it via the Windows app store and install it. Windows 8.1 Update is also available to Windows 7 users from the Microsoft Web Store, both as a packaged DVD and on new PCs, laptops, and tablets. There are standard and Pro versions, priced at $119.99 and $199.99 respectively. The Pro version adds business capabilities such as disk encryption and network domain joining, and it is required for those who want the Windows Media Center home theater software.
Spoiled for Choice
Windows is about choices. A whopping 5,400 certified Windows 8.1 PC models of all shapes and sizes are available. There’s also the choice of more than 4 million Windows applications. No other platform can claim anything close. A healthy 40 percent of Windows devices now available are touch-capable, and some people may be surprised to know that user satisfaction for these devices is actually higher than the company has measured for any previous OS, including Windows 7.
But good old desktops and laptops with keyboards and mice still make up the vast majority of Windows machines in use, and users of those machines have been the most vocal critics of Window 8. Version 8.1 partially addressed their concerns; Windows 8.1 Update really takes their needs to heart.
In fact, when PCMag got an early look at the version, Windows Principal Program Manager Chaitanya Sareen admitted that “the mouse and keyboard needed work,” that they’d heard the feedback, and that “we just wanted to bring the love back to the mouse.” This Update targets the mouse dead on, even giving mouse users capabilities not available in touch-tablet PCs.
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster.
- RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
- Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
- Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver.