When Microsoft brought out the Windows 8.1 update, it returned the Start button that so many had missed. But it didn’t quite help make everything easier, not the way people expected it to, especially those without touch screens. Fortunately, the big M is rectifying this.
A quick history of Windows 8, if you will. Ahem.
Microsoft releases Windows 7 in 2009, and it’s one of the most successful operating systems. The OS predates the wide availability of touchscreens, and instead focuses on the keyboard and mouse we use from day to day, with translucent graphical touches, window snapping, pinned applications, and file libraries, among other things.
Three years later, Microsoft released Windows 8, with a style unlike that of the previous generation. While Windows 7 was an evolution of the design first seen in Windows 95, and later improved in XP, Windows 8 got rid of the translucency and replaced it with a flatter style for the desktop.
But while that wasn’t a big deal, replacing the famed Start bar with a Start screen developed for touch more than anything else was.
You still had a desktop, sure, but you had to run all your apps from a grid screen that replaced this, with the apps designed for this style also running separately and not on the desktop itself.
Unfortunately, the grid screen was focused on touchscreens, with the best experience offered there. Touchpad mice with decent support for multi-touch and gestures were fine here, but not many PCs had them, and so Windows 8 became like Vista: developed for a hardware platform that few people had.
To give you an idea of Vista, the platform that predated Windows 7, Microsoft had built it with faster chips and more memory requirements in mind, to make the operating system look pretty. If you wanted Vista to run well, you needed newer hardware, and so by the time W7 launched and everyone had begun to get that new hardware, Microsoft made Windows 7 more tech friendly, so you didn’t even need all that new stuff to begin with. It might help, but you didn’t require it.
Windows 8 had that problem, too, and with either a decent mouse or a touchscreen display suggested to make the experience better, many people were left wishing Microsoft would revert to the style it had shown in Windows 7, with an emphasis returning to the mouse and keyboard.
Soon, though, Windows 8 users might get that wish, with the latest update to Windows 8.1 shown at Microsoft’s Build conference this week.
The release will aim to bring a better experience to people without touch screens — which would easily be most Windows computers out there — with the Start button getting a pint-sized version of the Start screen.
It’s not going to be exactly the same as the experience on Windows 7, but rather one that shrinks the Windows 8 Start screen to help familiarise you with the look and feel of the bigger Start Screen.
You’ll be able to shut down or suspend without dragging out the charms on the side of the screen, and you won’t have to switch into every app to use the apps you’re running, with the programs being integrated into the desktop start but (you know, the way they used to be) with media controls returned the way they were in Windows 7.
Internet Explorer will get better too, as will come of the keyboard shortcuts, and there will even be a return to classic way of minimising and closing things, with the old “—“ and “x” icons at the top of the screen.
The update is free, and will begin to roll out from Microsoft on April 8 for both Windows 8.1 and those devices running Windows RT 8.1.