Windows 8 critics, this is it. The Windows 8.1 Update was made to fix everything you think is wrong with Microsoft's touch-friendly version of Windows.
That probably won't stop the complaints, but with this update, the new touch- and tile-centric Windows finally feels right on "traditional" mouse-and-keyboard setups, mainly laptops. Individually, the new features are fairly minor, but overall they represent a power shift for those machines - a reassertion of the desktop.
In Windows 8 and later 8.1, the desktop felt more or less like "just another app" among the array of live tiles on the Start screen. Even if you spent the majority of your time with desktop apps, it seemed that Windows was trying to throw you back to the modern environment (aka "Metro") every chance it got. Opening a simple photo, for instance, launched the Modern Photos, not a desktop app.
Microsoft's director of Windows client communications, told Mashable. "[The Update] is a collection of minor updates that we've done to complete the overall experience."
Anyone with Windows 8.1 will get the update on April 8. There's no manual download required — it'll happen automatically. Here's an overview of the most important changes.
Boot to Desktop Default
Windows 8.1 introduced the option to boot to desktop, but you had to hunt it down in a settings menu to engage it. Now your PC will boot to the desktop automatically. You can always change it back, of course.
As a kind of companion to the taskbar, a title bar drops down from the top of the screen when you launch a Modern app, then goes away after a few seconds. These are actually not new — they're actually borrowed from the Windows desktop apps' full-screen modes, probably most used with Internet Explorer. Moving the mouse pointer to the top of the screen brings the header back anytime, and it includes icons for closing and minimizing.
"This is the Windows DNA," Sareen says. "People see the familiar controls — minimize, close — and we were very pleasantly surprised that in our usability study we had 100% success of people getting out of a Modern app."
Desktop Apps Are Default
One of the more frustrating things about Windows 8/8.1 has been it favoring of the Modern UI at inappropriate times. If you, say, double-clicked on a video file, it would instantly launch the Modern version of Windows Media Player, thrusting you into the full-screen experience even though you probably didn't want or expect that to happen.
The 8.1 Update does the more sensible thing and by default will launch the desktop versions of those apps when you click. It's a subtle change that really makes a huge difference for ease of use. Of course, you can alter the defaults if you wish. Little Things
The 8.1 Update includes a few other tweaks. When you search, Windows Store apps will show up in the results, which gives developers another way users may discover their apps. Live tiles now have proper right-click menus for mouse setups. The "All Apps" list has better markers for new apps as well as notifications. The OS disk image is smaller for some machines, freeing up a little more device storage. And Microsoft added back some functionality in Internet Explorer so certain enterprise customers will finally have a web browser with their customized apps.
The Final Fix?
Unlike some of the upgrades in Windows 8.1, the changes in the Windows 8.1 Update are almost universally subtle and minor. So why did Microsoft take so long to implement them?
The company isn't saying officially, but from the pattern, it's easy to discern an admission that Microsoft perhaps went too far in designing a touch-friendly version of Windows. While it was a potentially powerful tablet OS, many of the features weren't really suited for traditional PCs, which the majority of users had at the time.
Now, finally, Microsoft has seen the error of its ways and given back the desktop-centered Windows that power users crave. With the Windows 8.1 Update, the current version of Windows is about as good as it can get. If you've been holding out on upgrading, now's the time.