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Did Windows 8.1 Update Finally Fix Windows 8?

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Mobile devices, powered by Google's Android and Apple's iOS, have begun to eat into sales of traditional PCs running Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Windows operating system. In an attempt to beat back the competition, Microsoft released Windows 8 last year -- a hybrid operating system with both traditional desktop and touch-screen functionality.

But the response has been mixed. PC sales continue to fall; meanwhile, consumers are baffled and upset by the most radical update to Windows since 1995.

That changes today -- or does it? Windows 8.1 is now available for download, and though it improves Windows 8 quite a bit, it isn't the return to classic Windows that many may have been hoping for.

The start button is back! ... But not really
Perhaps the single most upsetting change to Windows was the loss of the start button. For almost two decades, the start button sat in the lower-left corner of every Windows desktop, offering easy access to any and all applications and files stored on a given PC.

Microsoft got rid of the start button with Windows 8 in favor of the touch-optimized Metro interface and system search. Instead of clicking on start, and navigating through menus, Windows 8 users are forced to go through the Metro interface and select the appropriate tile, or swipe from the right, and search with a text box for the desired app, setting or file.

Some developers took advantage of the outrage, building applications to restore the start button. There are now at least a dozen different programs out there -- some free, some paid -- that bring the start button back to Windows 8.

If you bought one of these applications, Windows 8.1 won't make you think you wasted your money. While there is now a button that once sat in the familiar lower-left corner, it doesn't offer classic start button functionality. Instead, this new Windows button simply switches the PC to the Metro interface.

This isn't even that different from Windows 8.0. There's no button, but users of Windows 8 could get to the Metro interface by clicking in the lower-left corner prior to Thursday's update.

Metro remains the focus
Instead of fixing the classic desktop view, most of the updates to Windows 8.1 come in the form of improvements to the Metro interface. Much of this is visual: Metro tiles are now more customizable -- users have more control over their size -- and more animated. Desktop applications get tiles, too, and users can change the background and play with the color scheme.

System search is better as well, with Bing integration that draws in web data alongside local files and applications. Microsoft's own Metro apps -- like Finance and People -- have received improvements, while Skype integration has replaced the old messaging application. SkyDrive, Microsoft's alternative to Dropbox and Google Drive, is now more deeply integrated into the overall operating system, allowing for most of a users' apps, settings and files to live in the cloud.

Microsoft isn't backing down
To be clear, Windows 8.0 is not a mea culpa. Those hoping for a return to the classic Windows feel will be disappointed with Windows 8.1. By nearly all measures, it's a great improvement, but it's clear that Microsoft is staying the course -- Windows 8.1 is much of the same.

The Metro interface continues to be Microsoft's primary focus, and while it's far better in 8.1, it's still the touch-optimized, Windows Phone-like interface that bewildered many long-time, classic Windows users.

So is Windows 8.1 a fix? Not really. It's definitely better, but if you hated Windows 8 before Thursday, Windows 8.1 isn't going to change your mind.

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Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (0)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 17, 2013, at 2:22 PM, rhealth wrote:

    Haha, it's cute that people actually care.

  • Report this Comment On October 17, 2013, at 4:22 PM, daverhall wrote:

    I have windows 8 then went to 8.1 on my desk top and it did not help a bit. It looks like I will have to switch to windows 7 or go to Macintosh/Apple.

  • Report this Comment On October 17, 2013, at 9:08 PM, pwgotribe wrote:

    The start screen is not the issue. We learned to work with the Windows 8 screen. The problem is that the system itself is buggy. Refuses to boot after it loads its updates, and after the crash the only fix is to wipe the hard drive and start again, reloading all your software. Also when updates are installed, things move around and you have to search to find the new locations (I've had 3 different ones for Control Panel). The issue is with the desktop, not the RT system on my Surface tablet. IE 10 is another issue, so I'm just using Firefox.

  • Report this Comment On October 18, 2013, at 9:43 AM, JimFromIL wrote:

    I agree with pwqotribe. Windoze 8.x is so much radically different than what most ordinary people grew up with, learned, and accepted. They had it right with Win-7, and even the die-hards out there are still on XP (which will not be around much longer). What MS did not realize, is not everyone has lots of "disposable income", to dish out for touch devices. I'm on 8.1, only because I have to be; not because I want to be.

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