Touch-up for classic Windows
Microsoft have listened to feedback and reintroduced established elements in this latest iteration of their OS
An event promoting the debut of Microsoft's Windows 8 in Tokyo last year. The release failed to win unqualified support
When Windows 8 hit the market last October, the reaction was decidedly muted. All the “start me up” excitement of the past launches seems to have petered out.
The sales figures may have compared favourably with Windows 7 – in May the tech giant said it had to date shipped more than 100 million licences – but the new operating system hasn’t won unqualified support from long-term Microsoft users who had been comfortable with the status quo: a start button, a basic desktop view, and the mouse and keyboard combo.
The touch optimised Windows 8 was primarily intended for tablets and hybrid devices – those with a keyboard and mouse, but also the option of using the touch screen. Although it’s possible to use the operating system quite effectively without the touch screen input, to really get the full effect of Windows 8, it’s essential.
And controversially, it ditched some of the most familiar Windows elements: the start button and menu was gone and the desktop was relegated to an app.
Instead, there was a start screen, apps that were displayed as tiles and a search function that left some mystified.
The company has now backtracked a little and taken some of the feedback on board. The result is Windows Blue, the update to Windows 8, takes away some of those niggles and annoyances and makes it an altogether more pleasant system to use.
That version went out last week as a preview for the pioneering souls willing to run it on their Windows machines so we rolled up our sleeves, installed Windows 8.1 – with a little trepidation – and got down to the serious task of putting it though its paces.
The major difference is the reported U-turn on the start button. Despite dumping the familiar icon from the screen in favour of a sprawling start screen with apps as tiles, it seems people just couldn’t let go and move on. Microsoft has decided to bring it back in a new form.
But it’s not really that much of a backtrack. Under Windows 8.1 the desktop app has regained its link to the start menu, but it brings you to the start screen you had under Windows 8. So there is no return to the pop up menu, and the change is largely cosmetic.
But that start button does have a few hidden advantages. Right click on it, or long press if you have a tablet, and you get an enhanced admin menu, with options to open the task manager, control panel, and power options. You can even shut the computer or tablet down from that secondary menu.
Perhaps one of the biggest returns to familiar territory is the ability to now boot to the desktop. Now your Windows 8.1 machine looks just like your Windows 7 one did at startup. It’s not the most obvious thing to find though – it’s under the taskbar and navigation properties tab – so unless you have instructions to hand, be prepared to dig around. The same menu also allows you to turn on and off the smart corners, and show the apps view automatically when you go to the start screen.