The first Windows 8.1 Update 1 ISO leaked onto the web in various file sharing sites ahead of March release, I was able to get my hands on the bits, and let me tell you that the current build (6.3.9600.16596) shows more changes than the tweaks we previously heard. Let’s dive into the new changes…
White the Windows 8.1 Update 1 full installation continues to be the same and fairly quick, I do have to say that it felt a bit quicker than previous releases, even though I was installing the leaked bits in a virtual machine. Though, I was really surprise to see that it only took 9.9GB of hard drive space to install the full version of the operating system, I have previous installations that used a lot more space (12.5GB) — I heard in the past Microsoft will reduce the footprint in Windows 8.1 Update 1 to accommodate small and cheaper tablets and I think that the installation from the latest leaked ISO shows just that.
Start screen improvements
According to previous information, Microsoft was supposedly hiding the Start screen at boot, jumping straight to the desktop. Well, in the current build (6.3.9600.16596), after the installation completes I was presented with the Start screen and all the new default live tiles. I’m not saying that info was bogus, but it seems Microsoft will continue to show Start by default.
Also on the new tweaked Start screen, you’ll see the new power management menu with the Sleep, Shut down, and Restart options. Next to the new power options, you can see the new search button as well, which it only brings up the Windows Search functionality (something you can easily do using the +S keyboard shortcut). These changes are minor, but they will make search and shutdown Windows a lot speedier for average users.
In the Start screen, we can also see that Microsoft has added the PC setting tile that makes a lot easier for users to find and configure different aspects of the operating system.
Overall, visually, Start remains the same, a few other small changes include: smaller Desktop tile and the software makers also position the SkyDrive (OneDrive), This PC, Documents, and Photos tiles next to the Desktop tile for easy access.
Mouse and keyboard improvements
Confirming what we’ve seen before, Microsoft is adding improvements in Windows 8.1 Update 1 to make the OS more usable with the mouse and keyboard. Now in the latest build (6.3.9600.16596), you can now right-click a live tile and get access to the new context menu to: unpin from Start, pin to taskbar, uninstall, resize, and turn live tile off. (It’s worth noting that options will vary depending the tile you’re selecting, for example, the context menu for the “This PC” tile also shows: Manage, Properties, Map network drive, and more.)
App install notification
One of the changes Microsoft made in Windows 8.1 was to send recently installed apps to the Apps view skipping the Start screen. Although, this was a good way to prevent Start from cluttering, average users weren’t really sure where new apps were installed. Now in Windows 8.1 Update 1, users get a notification in the bottom-left corner of the screen with the number of new apps installed.
Furthermore, newly installed apps now are highlighted in the Apps view alongside a new option to show more apps. (This last option fixes users complaints about icons being too bigs in large screen sizes.)
PC settings new addition
PC settings is the one place in Windows to find pretty much all the configurable options, but it’s not the Control Panel, so to get access to all the options in the operating system, Microsoft is now also adding a Control Panel link to PC settings at the bottom-left corner.
Perhaps the most important change in Windows 8.1 Update 1 comes in the Metro-style apps. Now moving the mouse to the top of a modern UI app will unveil a new black bar with two new options: minimize and close. These were high requested options as many users find it difficult to close apps or move in and out of the desktop environment. But here is the thing, by default you will only get the close button, in order to see the minimize option you have enable the new setting to pin apps to the taskbar.
In the desktop for Windows 8.1 Update 1, we now see some changes as well. For starters, Microsoft wants to make sure you know that now you can pin Metro apps to the taskbar, as such in Update 1, you will see the Windows Store app pin to the taskbar.
Now SkyDrive (soon to be called “OneDrive”) icon now appears in the system tray, but it just a link to open the folder with your content. You cannot change any configuration from here, you can only do that from the PC settings.
Pinning and showing running Metro apps on the taskbar
I can see many users already getting this functionality confuse. One of the new features in Windows 8.1 Update 1 is the ability to pin Windows 8-style (Metro) apps to the taskbar and you don’t have enable any option, just go to Start, right-click an app and then select “Pin to taskbar”. Now separate to pinning, you can now also go to the taskbar properties and enable “Show Store apps on the taskbar”, which will actually show running Metro apps in the taskbar.
One interesting behavior I noticed is that clicking a running Windows 8-style (Metro) app and without moving the mouse from the icon, you can get back to the app and the taskbar will remain visible, though you have to go back to desktop to see the taskbar again.
Windows 8.1 Update 1 is just a minor update to the operating system to make more usable with the keyboard and mouse, reduce memory and installation footprint. The update will be available on March 11. Bigger changes are coming to the OS, but this won’t happen until Windows 9, which is schedule to release in April 2015.
A lot more is yet to come, stay tuned…