Windows 8.1: Top 6 New Features

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After a full yearof Windows 8, Microsoft released the first major update to their OS. The Windows 8.1 update was made available to the public last weekend via Windows Store. This in itself caused quite a number of issues for eager updaters as the servers were running to the maximum capacities causing painfully slow updates around the world for the, more than 2GB, download. In addition, there were no other download options as seen previously, i.e. no torrents, no iso, no direct links, etc. Despite all the concerns and issues, there were still a fair amount of updates observed over the course of the week. With that in mind, we take a look the top features available on Windows 8.1.

6. Xbox Music

Windows 8.1-Top 6 Features - Music

One of Microsoft’s big moves is the integration between your Xbox and Windows PC. Windows 8.1 improves on these capabilities, most easily observed by means of the updated Xbox Music app. Not only have improvements been made to the overall usage, and performance, but the capability to save you collection and libraries on your PC and play directly from your Xbox without too much hassle. The additions of the Radio and Explore features within the app also make it quite a useful app on your PC, despite running in the Metro-themed format. The app generates suggestions and libraries based on the music found in your personal library. The radio feature, however, is limited to 10 hours per month, unless you pay for the premium account, and may also be region locked.

5. Universal Desktop and Metro Background

Windows 8.1-Top 6 Features - Background

While to many it may seem quite trivial, but this feature has it’s benefits. Not only does it look much neater and more fluid switching between the desktop and Metro menu, it is ever so slightly faster to switch between. Customisation is always an important aspect of any OS, something users can definitely appreciate. In the original build of Windows 8, users could only use the standard Windows backgrounds for the Metro menu, which now allows users to set custom backgrounds of their choosing.

4. Updated Windows Store

Windows 8.1-Top 6 Features - Store

One of my biggest frustrations with Windows 8 was how poorly optimised the Store was for browsing through apps, updating, and overall use. Based on experiences with the Apple App Store and Google Play, the Windows Store was nowhere near the level of performance. Thankfully, this has changed dramatically since the update, emulate results and layouts similar to the formerly mentioned app stores. In addition, Microsoft has included more detailed app descriptions, and even suggest a few related apps. Although there’s nothing revolutionary here, it shows significant improvement in the right direction. And best of all, almost all Store apps have been updated as well, even the default Microsoft Metro apps.

3. Bing Smart Search

Windows 8.1-Top 6 Features - Search

Searching in Windows 8 was improved over that of Windows 7. In addition, Windows 8 included a built-in search function in the Metro Menu, which was activated simply by starting to type. Windows 8.1 improves on this even further with Microsoft’s “Search Heroes” feature. The search query previously integrated with your apps and files, but has now been expanded to search the web (mostly Wikipedia and via Bing), as well as provide an interactive aspect to it. For example, if you search for your favourite artist, it will display the search results and enable you to start playing a track from the menu without having to open it first. Searching for cities will provide results such as directions, weather, famous landmarks, etc. These are just a few of the examples now available for the smart search feature.

2. Boot Directly to Desktop

Again, something that should have been available from the offset, we find as a new features in Windows 8.1. Again, this update has improved the optimisation for its users. In the previous setup, Windows would boot into the Metro menu, and you would then have to click the Live Tile to access your Desktop, which often lead to a few seconds of additional background preporation before experiencing a smooth Explorer interface.

1. Start Button

Windows 8.1-Top 6 Features - Start Button

Finally, we have the much debated Start Button. Microsoft, after more than a year (even before Windows 8 dropped last year October) of defending the buttonless OS, has buckled to public demand, and have, thus, returned the Start Button to its former glory. In all honesty, with most modem keyboards now including the Windows key, and also the ability to click the bottom left of the screen to unhide the Metro interface, the update wasn’t really needed, but something users wanted. Despite the inclusion of the button, Microsoft have yet to reintroduce the actual Start Menu of old, and based on all the feedback and hate mail, who knows, we might yet see it back come Windows 8.2, hopefully before October 2014.

Windows 8.1-Top 6 Features - Keyboard

There are quite a few other tweaks and new features Microsoft has brought to the table, including updated multitasking, a few Bing apps such as Health & Fitness and Food & Drink, camera access from the lock screen, enhanced SkyDrive, onscreen keyboard gestures and auto-predict, and a new Settings menu. While there may still be some debate as to whether Windows 7 users should make the jump to Windows 8, if you’re already running the OS, it is highly recommended to run the 8.1 update. If you’re still experiencing difficulty in finding the update via the Store, you can use the following link from any browser running on your Windows 8 PC.

Update Requirements:

    1GHz or faster processor with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2
    1GB of RAM for 32-bit computing, or 2GB for 64-bit
    16GB of hard-drive space (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit)
    A Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

Important: You will have to update your graphics card drivers, as it may cause an issue or two, mostly during gaming.

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