Windows 8.1 update - everything you need to know

Windows 8.1 update shows some love to the keyboard and mouse - here we look at the changes and remind you of everything we already love about its work-and-play features...

03 Apr 2014

Microsoft has launched its latest update to the Windows operating system - and it's designed to appeal to keyboard-and-mouse traditionalists as well as tablet users.

The first Windows 8 focused mainly on tablets and touchscreens: a radical redesign that left many desktop users cold. 

But the Windows 8.1 update, launched at Microsoft Build developers conference, puts the focus on the desktop - while retaining the OS's key principle of melding the worlds of work and play. 

Here we'll run through the main new features of Windows 8, and also highlight a few of our favourite existing features to help get you ready to update to 8.1.


1) Windows 8.1 update designed for desktop 

Windows 8 Taskbar

The main focus of Windows 8.1 is to please regular desktop users - further building on work done in the first update to the OS last year.

Joe Belfiore, Windows vice president, said with Windows 8.1 "we've added new features so it's much easier to use with mouse and keyboard PCs with no touchscreen".

Cnet writer Lance Whitney highlighted this, saying the new OS "sends some love to keyboard and mouse users".

This is likely to make Windows 8 a better option for users of regular laptops, as well as those with convertible laptops - which switch between tablet and laptop modes, and touchscreen and keyboard and mouse controls. 


Here are the key desktop-friendly features on Windows 8.1 update 1:

Boot to desktop: When switching on your machine the OS will detect whether you're using a laptop or desktop PC and if so boot to the traditional Windows desktop.

Modern apps on the taskbar: You can now pin Windows Store apps directly to your taskbar, while the app store is permanently pinned to the taskbar too. Belfiore says desktop users can now "quickly switch between apps".

Apps can be closed with a mouse: Apps now have a title bar so you can close and minimise them with a click of your mouse. 

App menus: Right-click on an app tile on the start screen and you'll see a menu that allows you to pin it the taskbar, or uninstall.

Power button: You can now shut down your machine from a single power-down button. This sits on the Start screen now, rather than being buried deep in menus.


2) It's still very tablet friendly 

Windows 8.1 Update Start Screen

Although Windows 8.1 shows some love to desktop users, it hasn't abandoned its tablet roots.

Here's why it's great for use with your tablet.

Touch: With Windows 8.1 everything is optimised for touch. When switching on your tablet the OS will boot directly to the tile-based Start screen which is filled with touch-enabled tiles.

Everything in its right place: Tapping on these tiles will take you to everything from your favourite apps and programmes to your calendars and social media feeds.

Boots fast and lasts long: Battery life is even longer with the new Windows 8.1 update, while your machine will launch in seconds - great for when you're using on the go.

Tablet-focused browsing: The built-in Internet Explorer 11 is designed for touchscreens with "larger tabs, simpler controls and fluid responses to gestures".

Apps: With the Windows Store you can download apps for everything from Netflix and Facebook to BBC News and Angry Birds. The Windows Store has thousands upon thousands of apps to choose from too. 

Universal apps: With Windows 8.1 Mexpect apps that work across your tablet, latptop and Windows Phone. Microsoft has made it possible for developers to create universal apps. PocketLint reports that this will likely "improve both the quality and selection of apps on offer".

Working on the go: Windows 8.1 tablets can run Microsoft Office, so you can work on Word and Excel documents on the go. While Skype is also built in so you can dial into a call from pretty much anywhere. PowerPoint, Excel and Word will be in apps that are touch-friendly and run across devices.


Other things we love about Windows 8.1


1) It can be tailored to you

Identity and personality is important. Just take a look at the clothes we wear, the bands we listen to, the cars we drive. With Windows 8.1 this also extends to computing.

The Start screen can be tailored like a Savile Row suit. Fill it with things that matter to you.

The apps you love, pictures of the people you love, music from the bands you love, news from the friends you love, and give it a background in the colour you love.

It'll also tell you whether it's going to rain or be sunny, and tell you where you're meant to be tomorrow.

When you're done, sync your settings so they're the same across all Windows 8 devices. Check out how artists have personalise their desktop below. 


2) It's as good for work as it is for play

Windows 8 may have seemed more focused on play - apps, touchscreens, coloured tiles. But with Windows 8.1 Microsoft strikes the perfect balance between work and play.

The boot to desktop feature, the shutdown and search buttons all make Windows 8.1 more suited to use with a keyboard and mouse.

Mary Jo Foley wrote in ZD Net: "With the 8.1 Update installed, Windows 8 feels more familiar, sensible and useful to me. Moving between Metro and Desktop is finally starting to feel less jarring."

With the ability to pin apps for things like iPlayer to the taskbar, and close apps with a mouse, switching between work and play is smoother.


3) Apps have got more clever

Windows Store

Apps may be something you'd previously associate with tablets, but in Windows 8.1 they've become laptop friendly.

Pin them to your taskbar and launch from the desktop and, when they're open, close or minimise them by clicking your mouse. 
Apps also get easier for desktop users to arrange and use. When running a full-screen app you're able to close or minimize it by clicking icons on a menu at the top of the screen with your mouse - previously missing from apps.

Tablets and desktop PCs have vastly different screen sizes - but with 8.1 you can tailor your app windows to suit a small or large screen.
With Windows 8.1 you can have as many as four apps on screen at the same time.

The latest Windows 8.1 update is available from April 8th. 

Or more info on Windows OS. 

Related in Windows news

A quick window into Windows 11!

05 Oct 2021

Why you need Microsoft 365 on a Windows laptop

15 Sep 2021

How Windows 10 and Microsoft 365 help you get it all done

14 Apr 2021

5 great reasons to upgrade to Windows 10

18 Mar 2021

How to upgrade to a new Windows 10 computer

18 Mar 2021