One June 26, Microsoft announced the newest update to their Windows 8 software: Windows 8.1 Preview. According to a Microsoft press release, the Preview is meant to “refine” Windows 8, bringing better customization, integrating Bing search throughout the operating system, and redesigning the Windows Store among other updates.

Some Windows 7 fans were puzzled to discover a vacant Start menu in the release of Windows 8. In Windows 8.1, though, Microsoft returned some Start menu functionality, although not to the same extent as in Windows 7. Clicking on the new button takes you to the Metro interface, and a right-click reveals more options; yet, the menu doesn’t include all the functionality of the pre-Windows 8 Start menu. Regardless, it’s a welcome improvement for those who felt the interface was less intuitive without it.

Another functionality for those with Metro angst is the ability to boot directly into the Desktop. So, in effect, users can now bypass the Metro screen entirely.The Windows Store also had an overhaul. According to Microsoft, the changes to the Store make discovery and search more user-friendly and personalized. For instance, Bing Search plays a larger role in 8.1 and searching is more intuitive. There’s also a universal search that can scan your entire PC–similar, in fact, to Apple’s Spotlight feature on Mac OS and iOS. They’ve also redesigned applications such as the Video and Music apps, added more applications, and allowed for more control over individual apps through the Settings menu.

Windows 8.1 Preview also enhances its side-by-side view. It’s now included in the Internet Explorer 11 and can open as a new tab, so multitasking while browsing the Web is simpler. Tiles have more size options in the preview and can be resized to wide, medium, or small.

With the Preview release, Microsoft is showing that it listens to the customer. Even though the Start menu isn’t exactly what some hoped for, it’s a step in the right direction for many users. Settings, personalizations, and additions to the release are geared toward making customers more comfortable with the operating system.

A Windows “Preview,” as the name suggests, only runs for a limited time. It’s meant as a soft launch of the product, and it’s not meant to be used for the long term. Also worth noting is that Windows 8.1 Preview cannot be upgraded, so a full install is necessary once the official 8.1 is launched. This means losing your programs, apps, and files, so only those who wish to experiment with the new operating system before its official launch should install it. Windows 8.1 will likely arrive this fall and, according to a Windows blog post, will be released to manufacturers in August.




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