When Microsoft released Windows 8 just over 18 months ago it was received with mixed views. Some loved it, and some struggled to adapt to the radical changes compared to how traditional Windows users interacted with their computers.
Perhaps it was ahead of its time. With touch becoming a major component on how we use technology today, manufacturers of notebooks and desktops were not quite ready with touch interfaces when Windows 8 was launched. Touch screens are also still expensive.
But almost two years later, and with 200 million operating systems sold, Windows 8 is slowly gaining adoption and maturing in a touch-driven computing society.
Last night Microsoft pushed the third and most significant update automatically to Windows 8.1 users, and there are some big enhancements.
Microsoft has addressed the touch user interface functionality, by making the experience of using a keyboard and mouse with Windows 8 easier and more seamless.
Many users struggled to adjust with the modern Windows 8 desktop, so with this new update, Microsoft is bringing elements of the traditional Windows desktop back. The folders for example, have been tweaked to be more familiar; there is a new taskbar, and the file management system has been streamlined. Essentially the process of getting to your desktop and back to your start screen is as easy as a click, or a tap on the screen.
On the start screen, for example, the “power” and “search” buttons are situated next to your account picture in the top right-hand corner of the screen. So there is easier accessibility, and it is also simpler to shut down your device directly from the start screen.
They have essentially tried to make the desktop easier to use, and easier to access, while at the same time making it less cluttered. You will now also be able to select the devices you want to boot to desktop as the default setting.
Users can pin both desktop apps and apps from the Windows Store, as well as their favourite websites, to the taskbar.
There’s also a new version of Internet Explorer, with plenty of new features, including the ability to get a continuous experience of sharing content across devices like a Windows phone.
One significant enhancement with the new update, is that 8.1 can now be installed on lower cost devices with as little as 1 GB RAM and 16 GB of storage, making it less hardware intensive thanks to improved efficiencies.
Overall, this update addresses the slow adoption of touch devices. Microsoft has made a concerted effort in bridging the divide between touch and the physical hardware like a mouse and a keyboard. The Windows 8.1 update makes the experience smoother and more palatable for users who have struggled to let go of old habits.
Oh, and the start button is back! Did I mention the start button is back? YES PLEASE! Thank you Microsoft!
Ironically, while users download this significant Windows 8 update today, Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP, which is still being used by over 30 percent of business around the world.