Surprisingly, earlier today Microsoft showed us at Computex 2013 some of the features of the upcoming Windows 8.1 OS. It’s surprising because we’re just few weeks before Build Conference, where Microsoft will surely announce some interesting things(both hardware and software).
We all know that there have been more than a few complaints about Windows 8, which failed to impress to the extent that Windows 7 did. Some longtime users of the operating system are used to this, with versions usually alternating in quality, and every other release being a bust. Microsoft might have broken that pattern with the updated Windows 8.1, a new version of their latest release that is already getting much higher praise than the original.
Immediately, we should have suspected a learning curve for the new version of Windows 8. With the focus being heavily on mobile and touchscreen compatibility, an area that is still new especially for the PC world, it was going to have a very different interface. But the tile layout of the main display, the way it forces users to use the ‘Metro’ design and the lack of features we have all come to know like a stationary Start button backfired from the word ‘go’.
Windows 8.1 was first announced on May 30th, through Microsoft’s official blog. One of the biggest features they push in the post is the ability to better customize the start page. They claim the new version will take into account “customer feedback”, though the interface using tiles will remain. There is no option to switch back to a more original Windows look. Picture the Windows Phone main screen but on all devices, including your PC.
Mobility is another major element to Windows 8.1. With more people switching to mobile, and even PC’s becoming all-in-one’s that allow for more mobility, they were eager to show this function off. Using more then sixty different devices from brands like Sony, Lenovo and Samsung, they demonstrated the way the new OS will handle on each one.
Greater security, improved apps, cloud connectivity through SkyDrive and their own search engine are all welcome upgrades in 8.1. More editing options with their photo app will be available, their customizable display can be used as a slideshow (in a similar manner to Windows 7), and they do have motion backgrounds that are visually appealing.
The security upgrades will be an appreciated addition for IT professionals. Their patented Windows Defender will reportedly offer network behavior monitoring, and assigned access to features like the Windows Store. Updates have been made to better catch malware and adware that still remains unknown to official registers. All in all, these are improvements that will add to the appeal for the professional market, if not the basic consumer.
However, Microsoft still has their work cut out for them. PC users have been slow to upgrade to touchscreen models, and it is unlikely that they will do so for some time. This puts pressure on the company, which has made touchscreen compatibility such a heavy focus of Windows 8 and 8.1. A mouse and keyboard is still compatible, but the interface wasn’t designed to support it as efficiently. Being unable to switch to an older interface will continue to be a complaint.
On the other hand, they have always struggled to keep up with the mobile niche, as well. While more brands are taking on Windows as their OS, the competition from Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android still dominate the market.
In spite of this, Windows 8.1 seems to be more intuitive for mobile devices, especially tablets. It offers a lot of information, customization and access all in one spot, which is what you hope for in a tablet device. Or, to a smaller extent, to a smartphone. The difficulty will almost certainly remain with their PC integration. Even the 8.1 upgrade won’t fully address customer concerns about that.