Microsoft has released the much anticipated preview for Windows 8.1, satisfying consumer’s requests for updates to the new operating system.  While Windows 8 was an exciting and bold move for Microsoft, many people found its new UI confusing and missed their traditional desktop.  Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s go-to spokesman, defended the change saying that “the Windows device of today doesn’t look like the PC of five years ago.”  He followed up by suggesting users purchase 2-in-1 devices for Windows 8.1 because customers who have Windows 8 on touch devices are happier with their system.  Even though they had good reasons for their design, Microsoft still listened to their customers and made some changes to please them.

  • Customization – The start screen has been altered to allow you to rearrange and group items together in a visual pleasing and useful way.  This makes for a more functional start area.  They have also added personalized backgrounds of the start screen, giving you some more freedom of what your device looks like.
  • Start Button – The Start Button has been added back into Windows after much demand.  Although it doesn’t function exactly how it used to, it can be tweaked to show most apps and power options increasing Windows 8’s usability.
  • Multi-tasking – Apps can now run side by side by snapping items into place.  This is what using Windows is all about; the ability to work on multiple things at once.  Glad they got this working well.  They have also added more support for multiple monitors.
  • Built in Bing – Bing is built into the search bar allowing for quick searches from your start page.  The search bar will immediate pull results from your files, apps, and the web.  Bing search has been improved, and is now able to pull video results and launch players when searching artists, as well as seeing pictures and text results.
  • Camera – 8.1 features 360 degree panoramic photo taking simply by “filling in the missing pieces” while taking pictures.  The app called Photosynth pieces all the photos together like a puzzle and makes one big picture.  Photos can also be edited on the fly, including color intensity and lighting through virtual radial dials.
  • Internet Explorer 11 – This upgraded browser adds some much needed upgrades such as unlimited tabs and a reading list feature that helps you store articles for later reading.
  • Xbox Radio – For those of us who don’t have Xbox Live accounts, Microsoft’s music service hasn’t been very useful, however 8.1 has added Xbox Radio, a free service for non-subscribers.  The service functions much like Pandora and I Heart Radio, where you search for a song or artist, and it plays related items.  A web-based version for non-Microsoft devices will be coming out soon as well.
  • Cooking App – Don’t you hate getting your tablet dirty when you are reading a recipe?  8.1 has a solution!  A new app called “Bing Food and Drink” allows you to find recipes, and swipe through the pages simply by waving your hand in front of the webcam.  I hope to see this technology opened up to all developers.
  • New Virtual Keyboard – Microsoft has redesigned their virtual keyboard, improving on the initial design and adding shortcuts.  Sliding your finger side to side on the space bar will select suggested words when typing, and pressing space bar will select it.  This makes for easy typing without ever taking your hands off the keyboard.
  • Boot to Desktop – Here is the big one.  For those who miss their old run of the mill desktop view, there is hope.  The boot to desktop option allows you to skip the start screen altogether and go straight to the old school view.
  • 3D Printing Support – Windows 8.1 now supports 3D printing.  Engineers rejoice!

I can’t say whether 8.1 is enough to win over skeptics of the new OS, but I think Microsoft is definitely making some fantastic progress.  If you doubted the OS before, it might be time to take another look at it, but follow Steve Ballmer’s advice and make sure you are using a touch device.  I have to agree with him when he said “The future of Windows is very, very bright.”