Windows 8.1 Update 1: hands on with Microsoft's latest Windows update

Kick in the boot

The last major change Microsoft made in Update 1 is a less rigid approach to boot to desktop, affording more choice to all parties involved.

Manufacturers can now pre-set boot to desktop if they feel it's best for their device. If they don't choose the option, Windows 8.1 Update 1 will turn to a set of default rules based on the device you're using to decide whether to boot to desktop from the start.

Desktop

Is desktop where you want to go?

No matter what manufacturers or the machine decide, users can always turn boot to desktop on or off.

In a move likely pleasing to mouse users, Microsoft has made it so you can choose boot to desktop from the desktop mode, meaning there's no need to flip over to the Start screen.

Subtle changes

Two small additions immediately noticeable with Update 1 are a power button and search charm in the upper right-hand corner. Tablet users won't see the power button when they install Update 1, but the idea is to make both (but especially search) more accessible to PC users who weren't accustomed to swiping out the right-hand-side charm menu.

Start button

The power button won't appear on Windows 8.1 Update 1 tablets

Another small yet nifty add-on is a title bar that appears along the top of Windows Store applications. The title bar hides itself after a few seconds, but moving your mouse in its vicinity reveals it again. The title bar lets users close or minimize the application as well.

Minimize and close

Remember what app you're in. Then close it

Another tiny tinker is found when you install new apps. With Update 1, a message appears next to the Apps arrow on the bottom of the Start screen. This way you can see exactly how many new additions were added to your collection.

Finally, a Microsoft rep told me that OEMs now have the option to open photos, music and video files in the Windows Photo Viewer and Windows Media Player, both desktop apps, and not their Metro counterparts.

Early verdict

The changes found in Update 1 should make using Windows 8.1 more intuitive for mouse and keyboard users. Even for those used to the Windows 8's touchiness, the added functionality isn't going to be something they hate.

I wasn't in the midst of an hours-long use case, but I felt I could be more productive simply because I could keep my fingers on the keyboard and right click the track pad when I had to. It all felt smooth and natural, without wasted motions and needless Start screen wandering.

The taskbar should be a true time and headache saver, and those familiar with Windows 7 should have no problem picking it up. However, I wish Microsoft provided the option to keep it visible on the screen instead of hiding it. If it's all about user choice, maybe I want my pinned apps to stay where I can see them?

We'll have to wait until Windows 8.2 and Windows 9 for any radical OS changes, but Windows 8.1 Update 1 does an admirable job of addressing some of the nagging issues for the many users who've grinned - OK, grimaced - and bore them.