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Windows 8.1 Update deep-dive review: An OS that makes more sense

Preston Gralla | April 11, 2014
The latest fix to Microsoft's much-maligned Windows 8 operating system finally bridges the gap between touch and traditional computing.

Windows Store apps also now have a desktop-application-style title bar that appears briefly when you launch the app and then vanishes, although you can make it appear again by moving your mouse cursor up to the top of the screen.

All this goes a way towards making Windows 8.1 feel more like a unified operating system. I no longer find the process of using first a desktop application and then a Windows Store app as jarring as before, because their behavior is now much more similar.

Having the taskbar available wherever I am is perhaps even more important to me. It means that I am able to easily switch between running apps or launch new apps whether I am in the touch-oriented interface or the mouse-and-keyboard one. In fact, it makes the Start screen less necessary, because you can now launch Windows Store apps from the taskbar.

Having the taskbar available no matter where you are in Windows makes switching between apps a lot easier.

Not everything has been fixed. You still can't resize Windows Store apps, so they can't float on the desktop in their own windows in the way that desktop applications can. And, as mentioned previously, there is still no Start menu, which would further unify the two interfaces. At the recent Build conference, Microsoft showed what the Start menu will eventually look like: very like the one in Windows 7, but also able to display Windows Store app live tiles. When it's released, the unification of the different interfaces will be more complete. But we still have to wait.

More Start screen changes
Microsoft has made some other tweaks to the Start screen as well, and all are useful, although none as significant as the taskbar. There's now a power button on the Start screen, making it a bit easier to shut down Windows 8.1, put it to sleep or restart it. There's also now a search button -- which is actually redundant, because in order to launch a search when you're on the Start screen, you only need to start typing or else display the Search charm. But many people may not know that, and this provides a more obvious alternative. For me, it made no difference at all.

In addition, mouse users will now be on more familiar ground when it comes to customizing the Start screen. It used to be that when you right-clicked a tile, an app bar would appear that let you customize it — for example, change its size or turn off a live tile. That same bar would appear if you held your finger on the tile using a touch device.

 

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