The Window 8.1 update is free for current owners of Windows 8 via the online Windows Store. Computers with Windows 8.1 already installed will go on sale Friday local time. Windows 8.1 will also be available on new devices and as boxed software starting Oct. 18 at retail locations around the world.
Microsoft has been blogging a lot lately in an effort to explain what's new for Windows 8.1 update. Let's try to summarize the features:
- The Start button is back in desktop mode. But now, instead of bringing up programs and important folders in a list, one tap on Start flips you back to the new tile interface, where you can click or tap tiles to open programs. A long press brings up other settings such as the Control Panel.
- With Windows 8.1, you can start up the machine in desktop mode, bypassing the tiles for a short time.
- The onscreen keyboard now includes the ability to type numbers or punctuation marks by swiping up or away from certain keys on the standard "QWERTY" layout, eliminating the need to toggle between numeric and alphabetic layouts.
- While using specific apps, you can wave in the air in front of the front-facing camera to get a response.
- Finding all your apps takes just a swipe up on your start screen, as long as you don't do it from beyond the bottom edge.
- Apps update in the background.
- Windows 8.1 now has a home screen that looks good in portrait mode on screens measuring 7 inches to 8 inches diagonally.
- You can now answer Skype calls or take photos from the lock screen without having to log in. Just swipe down. You can also set other apps like Twitter to send notifications when the screen is locked.
- You can open as many Internet Explorer tabs as you want. You can also have two different websites displayed side by side.
- You can tap and hold Windows tiles with your finger to move them. More taps will allow you to resize them in one of four sizes. - Windows 8.1 also brings better multitasking - you can run up to four apps at once side by side. You can resize panes using a slider that moves side to side, instead of being limited to one larger window and one slender one.
- Typing while on the tile-based start screen will pull up multiple search results - from your computer, the Web and the Windows app store.
- The Mail app now has a "power pane" on left-hand side with folders for updates from social networks like Facebook, messages from favorite contacts and newsletters.
- The music streaming app now optimizes playback over discovery with a layout that has more lists and smaller photos. It also adds the ability to create playlists from any website with a couple taps. When on a website featuring artists, swipe in from the right edge and tap the Share button followed by the Music button. It will create a song playlist based on those artists, which you can then stream for free.
- A picture editor with pre-set effects comes with the update, allowing for photo touchups, cropping, contrast changes and other features.
- You can pick up where you left off if you start playing a video purchased on Xbox Video on a tablet and then watch the rest on Microsoft's upcoming game console, Xbox One.