The Windows 8.1 preview is here, giving us a first-hand glimpse at the fruits of Microsoft's newfound rapid-release religion. Remolding an operating system in eight scant months is a tall task indeed, and while Windows 8.1 is still far from perfect, Microsoft managed to craft a fairly capable reimagining of its new-look OS in the short time since Windows 8 debuted last October.
Steve Ballmer said it well: Windows 8.1 refines the blend, making the core modern UI experience far less jarring than before. Don't dig all the Live Tiles? Windows 8.1 even tosses several sizable bones to desktop aficionados.
Here, folks, are the five most enticing reasons to upgrade to Windows 8.1 when the final version becomes available. Microsoft has said the official release is slated for 2013, but hasn't announced a firm release date. If you're feeling adventurous enough to run beta software—preferably on a secondary computer, for precaution's sake—you can install the Windows 8.1 preview today, but be sure to back up your data first.
1. A better desktop experience
Hey, this is PCWorld, not TabletWorld, and while the times they are a-changing, the vast majority of computers found in the wild don't rock the touchscreens that really take advantage of the modern UI. Microsoft seemed to forget that point with the original Windows 8 release, but fortunately the Windows 8.1 preview packs a bevy of improvements that make using it much more palatable to keyboard jockeys.
After some mild tweaking, you won't have to jump through hoops to largely eliminate the modern UI from your computing life. Windows 8.1 reintroduces boot-to-desktop, and if you pair that with the ability to configure the returned Start button to jump to the Start menu-esque All Apps screen, you may rarely, if ever, see a Live Tile.
Assuming nothing incredibly major changes between now and the time the final release appears, Windows 8.1 still isn't compelling enough to coax staunch Windows 7 lovers to upgrade, but it does make the transition much easier if you do decide to switch to Microsoft's modern vision.
2. More seamless overall
Speaking of transitions, one of the major complaints about Windows 8 was the disjointed way that the desktop and the modern UI interacted. All too often, they felt like warring, totally separate universes, and the OS was all too eager to rip you out of one to dump you unceremoniously in the other—a disorienting (and frustrating) experience.
Windows 8.1 smooths that feeling over quite a bit. The walls are definitely still there, and you'll occasionally find yourself whisked from one UI to the other, but overall, the experience is far less intrusive. With the addition of the revamped Start button, the ability to carry your desktop background over to the Start screen, and the fuller-fledged modern PC Settings, the Windows 8.1 preview gives you a greater feeling of control over the UI. Now, if Microsoft would only introduce a modern-style file explorer app...
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