Just as the company pulls the plug on Windows XP support on Tuesday, Microsoft is breathing new life into Windows 8.1 with the launch of Windows 8.1 Update. This should be good news for the mouse/keyboard crowd, making it easier to navigate both the desktop and the Modern UI-based Start Screen. This update is a mandatory install for all Windows 8.1 customers.
"It is a required update to keep your Windows 8.1 device current," states Microsoft's Premier Field Engineering blog. "Failure to install this Update will prevent Windows Update from patching your system with any future updates starting with Updates released in May 2014."
Haven't updated to Windows 8.1 yet? Then none of this applies to you. In fact, Windows 8 will be supported up until January 12, 2016, so you have plenty of time to consider Windows 8.1 and the subsequent updates. We suspect Windows 9 will arrive this time next year along with Windows Phone 9 and the unified store for those who would rather wait for the next full-blown OS release.
Customers on Windows 8.1 will find that the update is cumulative, meaning all previously released security and non-security updates will be installed if needed. KB2919442 is a prerequisite update, which was released in March 2014. This will need to be installed before the Windows 8.1 Update will be recognized if it isn't already.
Don't want to wait on Microsoft? These patches will bring your Windows 8.1 device up to date with the new Update 1 makeover:
What you won't see in the Windows 8.1 Update is the highly-anticipated Start Menu. "That is some exciting near-future stuff, which demonstrates our on-going commitment to deliver on customer feedback," reads Microsoft's blog on Monday. This seems to indicate that the Start Menu may make an appearance in the rumored Update 2 release supposedly going live in October.
If there's no Start Menu, then what does this update bring? For one, Power and Search clickable icons are placed on the Start Screen to make these two functions easier to perform. Microsoft's blog points out that you can do a search by merely typing on the Start Screen, but these icons should make searching for apps a lot easier. Even more, no more right-clicking on the Start icon to turn off the PC as the default shut-down procedure.
The new update allows users to pin Start Screen apps to the taskbar, thereby merging the Start Screen and Desktop interfaces even more. Windows 8.1 Update also now boots into the desktop by default unless the device in question is a tablet form factor. This makes more sense; the Start Screen should be the default interface on touchy mobile devices, not your standard non-touch desktop or laptop.
Microsoft's blog reports that the Windows 8 team has also added a new group of tiles to make navigation even easier: This PC (aka My Computer), PC Settings, Documents and Pictures. The blog notes that only new profiles will see these on the Start Screen; existing profiles will presumably have to pin them to the Start Screen from the Apps listing. Windows RT 8.1 users will only receive the PC Settings tile.
For a detailed list of cosmetic changes made to Windows 8.1 by the new update, head here.