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Posted on February 4th, 2014 by Darien Graham-Smith

Windows 8.1 Update 1: hands-on preview


A pre-release build of the latest update to Windows 8 has leaked online, giving us the opportunity to try it out ahead of its anticipated release in March or April.

This isn’t the “Threshold” update that’s been in the news lately: that’s not expected to arrive until next year. Threshold will reportedly bring major changes to the OS, including the return of the Start menu; it will probably be dubbed Windows 9, and could well be a paid-for upgrade.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 is expected to be a free download for all users, but it still represents a significant step forward for Windows. The leaked code is dated 14 January 2014, so there’s still time for a few more changes to be made before release, but what’s here is enough to give us a good idea of what the update will bring.

What’s new in Update 1

The differences start even before the OS has finished installing: if you log in with a Microsoft account while setting up a new PC with Windows 8.1 Update 1, you’ll now get the option to automatically copy settings and Store apps from another one of your registered computers. That’s an improvement on the Windows 8.1 updater, which required you to go to the Store and re-download everything from the Your apps section.

Once installation is complete, the leaked build of Windows 8.1 Update 1 boots directly to the desktop, rather than the Start screen. It’s possible that this is merely a convenience for developers, and we haven’t yet had a chance to test whether the same happens on tablet hardware that lacks a keyboard and mouse. What we’ve seen is suggestive though – following the return of the Start button in Windows 8.1, Microsoft may be gradually coming to accept that many users see the desktop, rather than Start, as their default home screen.


That’s supported by another change: the Windows Store icon is now pinned to the taskbar by default, and you can optionally have other tablet-style apps appear here too when opened. As with regular desktop applications, you can hover over an open app to see a preview, and pin frequently used apps for quick access. Subjectively, we think flat Modern-style app icons look incongruous next to conventional Windows icons – but from a usability perspective it’s a huge improvement to be finally able to see and switch between all your open apps, both desktop and tablet-style, at a glance.

Apps themselves have also been brought closer to the established Windows way of doing things. Move your mouse to the top of the screen and a black title bar now appears, bearing the name of the app and a conventional close button at the top right. Hover at the bottom of the window and the taskbar pops up, making it much more practical than before to multitask within the full-screen interface.


Start screen updates

The last few changes we’ve spotted affect the Start screen. Next to your name you’ll now see new icons for Search and Power: clicking the Search icon causes the search panel to fly out – it’s basically the same as activating the Search charm, or indeed not clicking anything and simply starting to type. The Power icon opens a drop-down menu allowing you to put your computer to sleep, restart it or shut it down. The functionality isn’t new, but it’s fair to say that previously it wasn’t well exposed; sticking these icons here will make life easier for users who aren’t familiar with the foibles of the Modern interface.


Finally, Microsoft appears to have recognised the ergonomic sense of placing contextual options alongside the item to which they refer. Right-clicking on a Start screen tile now brings up a standard drop-down menu, letting you pin, resize, hide or uninstall apps without having to schlep down to the bottom of the screen.


As the modest name implies, Windows 8.1 Update 1 isn’t a revolutionary upgrade, but it represents a series of sensible improvements that make the Modern interface more user-friendly, and help full-screen apps fit more harmoniously into a desktop-oriented workflow. The two sides of Windows 8 still don’t quite hang together seamlessly – for that we may have to wait for Threshold, which will reportedly allow Store apps to run in windows on the desktop. But with an expected release date a mere six months after the arrival of Windows 8.1, Update 1 represents a second consecutive step in the right direction.

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11 Responses to “ Windows 8.1 Update 1: hands-on preview ”

  1. Steve Says:
    February 4th, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Is downloading this software legal? I guess so if PC-Pro are installing and reviewing it but I do see a copyright tag in the first screenshot though.

  2. tech3475 Says:
    February 4th, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Does it at least give the option to not have the watermark if secureboot is disabled?

  3. Chalanthorn C Says:
    February 5th, 2014 at 7:49 am

    They are doing it worst :P they don’t need to change about the metro apps. And right-click option on start

  4. David Wright Says:
    February 5th, 2014 at 8:24 am

    As I predicted when the 8 previews first appeared, the Modern UI parts will get more and more features, bringing them closer to traditional desktop applications.

    We are at a crossroads, where MS want to kick out the legacy cruft and come up with something modern, secure and fast.

    If you look back at the transition from DOS to Windows, Windows started poorly, you couldn’t overlay Windows, you couldn’t multitask and it basically did less than what a DOS application could do, but it looked pretty.

    We are now seeing the same again, with a sparten “new” interface slowly replacing the decrepit old Win32 world, increasing in power and features as it matures, until it can completely replace the Win32 structure, which will (hopefully) be relegated to a VM for legacy application.

  5. Glenno Says:
    February 6th, 2014 at 6:41 am

    While appear to be a fan of Win8, there are still siphoned of us who prefer Win7. Perhaps if MS cleaned up the code behind the scenes and left users with the option to select their preferred UI, everyone would be a lot happier and MS would have more than the 8% take up that Win8 is alleged to currently have. I happen to like the ‘old’ interface. It is a matter of personal preference. I also prefer IOS6 to IOS7.

  6. Bill Maslen Says:
    February 6th, 2014 at 10:36 am

    It’s easy to set your preferred UI (e.g. the standard Windows desktop) using free goodies like Classic Shell, which actually makes Windows 8.1 very nice to work with on a standard (non-touch) machine. Windows 8.1 behaves like 7, but is faster and less memory-intensive. I started off very sceptical, but was quickly converted. I can honestly say I wouldn’t look back now – not after experiencing 8.1’s fantastic ‘Storage Spaces’ (group any and every drive into a single – or multiple – virtual drive(s); much better than the old, much-lamented Home Server used to be!)

  7. Steve Says:
    February 6th, 2014 at 11:19 am

    “It’s easy to set your preferred UI (e.g. the standard Windows desktop) using free goodies like Classic Shell”

    If MS had simply given users this option then there would have been far less negative talk about Win 8 particularly from novice users as they simply dont know about Classic Shell.

    But I agree 8.1 is faster than 7, so it makes MS’s decision even more baffling

  8. David Wright Says:
    February 7th, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Novice users… One user I know never got on with Windows XP or 7, she didn’t understand files and folders. She never managed to install an application in Windows.

    Half an hour with Windows 8 and she was proudly telling me that she had downloaded and installed a couple of apps.

    For her, W8 made a sort of sense that 7 and XP never had.

  9. John Throssell Says:
    February 7th, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Why on earth isn’t classic shell on my new OS8.1. Also, bring back an outlook express do alike. Live mail is totally weird.

  10. superbike999 Says:
    February 9th, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Classic Shell isn’t made by Microsoft. It is an open source program. I use it and it is excellent.

  11. pictonic Says:
    February 25th, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Ohh, is Windows edging towards the Unix/Linux facility of choosing your desktop? Dangerous – some customers might go one step further and choose Linux instead of Windows!


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