With Windows 8.1, Microsoft Hopes To Re-Start Adoption

The second stage of the reinvention of Windows has officially begun. On Thursday, Microsoft released the long-awaited version 8.1 of its flagship operating system.

This version -- free to Windows 8 owners and available from the Windows Store -- is bearing more weight that most OS incremental updates, as it seeks to address some of the issues surrounding the release of Windows 8. A key issue has been the tile-based touch interface, which is arguably optimized more for tablets than for laptops or desktops, and the resulting lesser status of the legacy desktop interface.

Worldwide shipments for PCs are at a five-year low this month, following six straight quarters of decline. Tablets and smartphones are increasingly being used for the functions that were once the sole domain of computers, plus many consumers and businesses are going slow about upgrading PCs to new ones running Windows 8.

No-Touch Gestures

To counter some of the complaints, version 8.1 brings back a sort-of Start button and allows a user to boot into the traditional desktop interface. Other revisions include keyboard swiping shortcuts so that users do not need to move between on-screen keyboards for letters and numbers, navigational gesture control without touching the screen -- which might be useful if your hands are sticky while you're flipping through on-screen pages of a recipe while cooking -- multiple sizes for tiles in the touchscreen interface, and more support for multitasking.

While the much-requested Start button has returned, it's not the same as its former self in Windows 7 and earlier OS versions. Previously, the Start button brought up a Start menu with programs and folders. In 8.1, the Start button brings the user to the tile interface to open programs. Holding down the Start button brings up settings adjusters, such as Control Panel.

There are also an updated...

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