Microsoft has confirmed the first major update to Windows 8.1 will arrive this Spring, saying it will make the OS easier to use with a mouse and keyboard.
Windows 8.1 Update 1 has long been rumoured to arrive in March or April, with leaked builds already available online. It’s in addition to the wider changes being planned for 2015 – called everything from Threshold to Windows 8.2 to Windows 9 – which are expected to be revealed in fuller detail during Build.
Joe Belfiore, vice president of Windows Phone, confirmed the update to Windows 8.1, saying it will arrive this Spring as part of Microsoft’s move to a more rapid release cycle.
He revealed little about the update, but did signal a few changes – many of which will be welcome to anyone using Windows 8.1 on a traditional PC rather than a touchscreen device.
“We are making improvements to the user interface that will naturally bridge touch and desktop, especially for our mouse and keyboard users,” Belfiore said. “We have a number of targeted UI improvements that keep our highly satisfying touch experience intact, but that make the UI more familiar and more convenient for users with mouse/keyboard.”
He added: “Don’t worry, we still love and believe in touch… but you’ll like how much more smooth and convenient these changes make mouse and keyboard use!”
Belfiore also suggested manufacturers would be charged less to use Windows 8.1, paving the way for cheaper Windows devices. “We’ll enable our partners to build lower cost hardware for a great Windows experience at highly competitive price points,” he said.
Lastly, Belfiore said Microsoft was improving Windows 8.1 for enterprise customers, improving IE8 compatibility in Internet Explorer 11 and extending mobile device management tools.
Here’s our roundup of the latest leaks, suggesting what we can expect in Windows 8.1 Update 1.
Title bar on Metro apps
A full build of Windows 8.1 Update 1 has leaked to file-sharing websites, revealing a few more of the expected changes, according to The Verge.
That includes a title bar across the top of all Metro-style apps, making it easier to use a mouse to minimise and close apps, as well as snap them side-by-side next to each other.
It’s also now possible to see how the dedicated shutdown and search icons (see below) will operate. Clicking on the shutdown button opens up a dropdown box with the expected options: restart, shutdown, and sleep.
The search icon, meanwhile, opens up the existing sidebar search tool.
Boot to desktop by default
The option to bypass the Metro interface when booting up will be on by default for desktop PCs, according to The Verge.
The idea is to make it easier to use Windows 8.1 for those using a keyboard and mouse rather than a touchscreen, with Microsoft’s own telemetry data showing most people still use those standard input methods. And yes, that’s the same telemetry data that Microsoft used to justify removing the Start button in the first place.
However, the report notes the change is still in development and may not be ready when the update ships.
Pin Metro apps to the taskbar
Leaked screenshots suggest Update 1 will allow Metro apps to be pinned to the desktop taskbar, meaning users won’t have to flip back into the Start screen to access them.
However, it isn’t clear from the images what happens when the icons are clicked, whether they run directly on the desktop in their own window or simply return the user to the Metro interface, noted ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley.
Microsoft has been rumoured to be considering allowing users to run such apps directly on the desktop, rather than forcing them into full-screen mode in the Metro interface.
Metro apps will receive their own close button in the top corner, mimicking how they’re shut down on the desktop, according to Paul Thurrott. At the moment, those apps are closed via the keyboard or a touch or mouse gesture.
Windows 8.1 Update 1 will also make it easier to manage app icons. Right-clicking on them in the Start screen will open up a menu to uninstall or resize them directly, rather than going to a different screen.
Leaked screenshots suggest Microsoft wants to make it easier to shutdown PCs, with the addition of a dedicated shutdown button located next to the profile image in the top-right corner of the Start screen.
At the moment, shutting down a Windows 8.1 PC involves navigating into settings or right-clicking on the returned Start button – the new method won’t save steps over the former, but is easier for new users to find.
The screenshots also feature a dedicated earch button next to the profile photo and new shutdown icon.
Under the hood
Foley also noted there may be some less visible changes, geared more towards tablets than the desktop.
She said Update 1 may introduce changes to cut memory and disk space requirements for Windows 8.1, making it run better on cheaper, smaller tablets.