Microsoft’s latest update to Windows 8.1 leaked onto the Web over the weekend, more than four weeks ahead of its scheduled release.
Tom Warren over at The Verge poked around the new build and found that Microsoft’s trying to make the Windows 8.1 experience easier for desktop users who must rely on a keyboard and mouse—users who might have felt a bit alienated by Windows’ newfound, obsessive focus on touch as a way to navigate the interface and work with apps.
Users can now minimize and re-size Windows 8.1’s apps (previously referred to as “Metro” apps, before a bizarre copyright fight with a German supermarket chain supposedly led Microsoft to start using the term “Modern”) via a new title bar; clicking on the Start screen tiles that link to each app will also open a sub-menu with options such as resizing and unpinning.
Search and shutdown buttons have been integrated directly into Windows 8.1’s Start screen, along with (according to Warren) “a control panel link into its PC settings section.” Users can also view Metro/Modern apps within the desktop taskbar.
Final features could shift, of course, before the update’s official release. But it’s clear that, after devoting so much effort to building a new version of Windows capable (supposedly) of running with equal facility on tablets and PCs, Microsoft is now course-correcting to better appeal to those users who value a more “traditional” desktop experience. Windows 8’s failure to take substantial market-share away from the aging Windows 7 and Windows XP speaks to that need for substantial revisions; as good an idea as it might have seemed on paper, crafting a tile-centric Start screen (the better to tap and swipe on a tablet) as a mandatory gateway to the desktop wasn’t something that ignited the consumer imagination.
But that doesn’t mean Microsoft’s ready to abandon the Start screen in favor of returning to the desktop, even if these latest updates to Windows 8.1 make the operating system more PC-friendly. According to Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows, Microsoft will begin working on Windows 9 after this April’s BUILD conference, and it plans on making many of Windows 8’s most “next generation” features more palatable to users.
“Maturing and fixing the ‘Metro’ design language used by Windows will be a major focus area of Threshold,” Thurrott wrote. “It’s not clear what changes are coming, but it’s safe to assume that a windowed mode that works on the desktop is part of that.”
Meanwhile, it’s harshly apparent that Windows 8 suffers from a much slower adoption rate than Microsoft would like. In December, analytics firm Net Applications estimated that Windows 8 held 6.66 percent of the OS market, trailing Windows 7 at 46.64 percent and the geriatric-but-popular Windows XP with 31.22 percent. Windows 8.1 held just 2.64 percent of the market, bringing the total for Microsoft’s latest operating system to 9.3 percent.
Image: The Verge