Windows 8.1 adds new gesture controls and restores Start button

Microsoft Corp. has pushed out its first big update to Windows 8 to the Windows Store, responding to some of the criticisms about the touch-oriented operating system.

While the live tiles design that is familiar from Windows Phone and even Xbox user interfaces is well suited for tablets, some users were miffed about drawbacks when in desktop mode. For example, Windows 8 can’t boot to desktop mode and the traditional Start button was not found in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, a familiar feature since Windows 95.

At it’s Build conference in San Francisco, Microsoft showcased Windows 8.1 new features. The Windows 8.1 update is now available in the Windows Store and will soon be available as an ISO file to download.

Return of the Start button

One of the many areas of concern with Windows 8 was that it may be touch-friendly but it wasn’t mouse-friendly. Microsoft has addressed this by changing the Start button to be the familiar the Windows logo. The new icon appears anytime a person operates the mouse and from any corner of the screen.

Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice-president of the Windows unit at Microsoft, added that there will be an option for the Windows desktop with 8.1. “We want to bring the modern world and the desktop world together. You can bring in the Start screen and the tiles float. From there you can get into all programs or make the default view all of your apps. With this you are able to see four times more apps than what you could with the Start menu,” Larson-Green said.

She added that screen real-estate will be optimized in 8.1 where a user can view three screens and compose an email, while reading another at the same time.

Rob Sanfilippo, research vice president of Directions on Microsoft,based in Kirkland, Wash., told CDN that the “refined blend” strategy was a response to feedback form Windows 8 users.

“It’s good to see a new release so quickly and the return of the Start button. It was also not a jarring move from the modern user interface to the desktop user interface. They referred to it as a new experience instead of jarring, but is still two different worlds of user interfaces,” he said.

More gesture controls

Microsoft has made Windows 8.1 more responsive by adding gesture controls. For example, a user can slide their finger across the space bar to view search engine suggestions and tap for the desired result. This maybe a small new wrinkle in the OS, but Larson-Green says it will eliminate you from having to raise your finger to the search box making it more responsive.

The finger swipe will become more in use in Windows 8.1 as it can drag pages east and west and north and south. The Power Pane feature will filter everything for the user in a glance such as social media, people.

The sweep command will make email deletion a lot faster. Sweep enables a user to delete all emails with a common theme for example emails for coupons. It can also delete all except for the latest one.

Larson-Green also showed a way for users to view numbers and letters on the on-screen keyboard in Windows 8.1 and photo editing is now available right on the photo. Larson-Green showed the audience at Build a way to change a photo’s saturation with her finger.

You can say goodbye to the Control Panel as the updated PC settings in Windows 8.1 gives you access to all settings without going to the Control Panel. Users can change display resolution, set power options, change the product key, along with the ability to manage SkyDrive.

Windows Store has a new look

Microsoft has also revamped the Windows Store in Windows 8.1. The new store look will have more information with detailed lists of top free apps, new releases, and picks for you on the homepage. The app listing is more descriptive and categories are now listed with other app commands such as links to current apps and account information. App updates install automatically in the background.

The Canadian-born Antoine LeBlond, senior vice president at Microsoft, said app developers will also be able to cross-promote their products right inside the Windows Store.

The Windows Store will also feel like a real brick-and-mortar store by having gift cards, he added.

LeBlond also showed how Windows 8.1 natively supports 3D printing. “It will be as seamless as 2D printing. Just tap the print area, select 3D and it send the data to the printer,” he said.

The Microsoft Store will soon have 3D printers for sale, LeBlond said.

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