Five reasons why it’s worth upgrading to Windows 8.1

The return of the Start button, boot to desktop and other features that make Windows 8.1 worth the upgrade...

18 Oct 2013


Microsoft has just launched Windows 8.1 - the update to its revolutionary Windows 8 operating system that both confused and amazed us last year.

Windows 8 boasted more ch-ch-ch-changes than David Bowie in the seventies, reinventing the operating system with tablets in mind. It introduced a new touchscreen interface filled with pretty, colourful tiles. Tapping these with your finger opened programmes and files - it really was smooth.

However, not everyone loved the re-imagining - pining for the much-loved desktop of Windows of old. This brings us to Windows 8.1, which aims to keep everyone happy by blending the best of the old with the best of the new.

Win 8.1 Preview

(Credit: Microsoft/AP - Windows 8.1 preview screnshot)

Likening it to coffee, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer said it's a "refined blend of our desktop experience and our modern interface and application experience".

But with all this talk of 'interfaces' and 'desktop experiences' it's easy to end up confused. Here are five short, sharp reasons why Windows 8.1 is worth the upgrade.  

1) Boot to desktop

The touchcsreen, tile-based Start screen of Windows 8 was pretty and pretty simple to use. But not everyone loved it. Now people can boot their machines directly to the traditional Windows desktop, sidestepping the newfangled tile-based interface should they so wish.

This is one of a number of features which smooth the transition to Win8 for those of us who prefer a keyboard and mouse to a tap-and-swipe touchscreen. Boot-to-desktop is pretty easy to activate too: just right-click the Taskbar and select Properties and then 'Navigation'. Then select 'Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in'.

2) Start button is back where it belongs

Windows 81Desktop _Web

(Credit: Microsoft - Windows 8.1 preview screnshot)

In one of the most eagerly anticipated comebacks since the Stone Roses got back together, Microsoft has returned the Start button to its rightful place on the Windows desktop. Folk were pretty baffled when Windows 8 appeared without it; it had been around since Windows 95, after all. But now you'll be able to find it back where it belongs in the bottom left-hand corner.

However, it's not exactly the same as the Start button of old.
A regular left click - or finger tap - will take you back to the tile-based Start screen but a right click will bring up a menu from which you can access programmes, files, system settings, or switch off your machine. To access this with a touchscreen laptop or tablet, you need to press down on it for a little longer than normal - a long press.  

3) Search gets seriously bling with Bing Heroes function

With Windows 8.1, search becomes a seriously streamlined affair. Run a search and you'll get results from files stored on your machine and on SkyDrive, as well as those from the web and your apps.

This is cool enough on its own, but if you're searching for celebs and their ilk you'll find even more bling. Search for Jay Z or the Arctic Monkeys and you'll get a Hero screen stuffed with multimedia content. You'll find videos, the option to play their songs and videos on Xbox Music, web search results and images.

The whole thing will be topped off with a large photo of your chosen hero too. Pretty damn neat, we think.  If you're searching for D-listers and others further down the fame chain, you'll get standard web search results and photos.

4) Masterly multi-tasking with snap apps

If you want it all, and you want it now, you're going to love the new Snap Views feature. With Facebook and Twitter, work emails, YouTube and online shopping, we've become masters of multi-tasking as we sit on the sofa with our tablets and laptops.

Now you can simultaneously run as many as four apps on your screen by resizing them using the Snap function. On the other hand if you're only using two apps, you can snap them so they each take up half of your screen. If you're working on a dual screen, you can run eight apps at once.

5) You really can make it yours

Windows 81Previewloc _Web

(Credit: Microsoft - Windows 8.1 preview screnshot)

If back in the day your old Nokia 3210 was wrapped in a Simpsons case and stuffed with ringtones of your favourite songs, then you'll love the personalisation features of Windows 8.1. The new OS allows you to put your stamp on things, to make your tablet or laptop an extension of you.

You can change the colour of the background, or run a slideshow of photos from your hard drive or SkyDrive on your lock screen.  From tile sizes and colour to backgrounds, it's there for you to make your own.

Do you reckon the return of the Start button or boot-to-desktop is the best new feature of Wondows 8.1? let us know in the comments below...