Since Microsoft’s developer conference Build, enthusiasts have been previewing the Windows 8.1 update. Microsoft have finally announced the release date for the major update. In Australia, that’s 10:00pm October 17th. Windows 8.1 addresses many of the complaints users had after Windows 8 launched around a year ago. During my time with 8.1, I’ve found the ability to set the metro background, the same as the desktop background a fundamentally different experience. I highly recommend those who tried Windows 8 and complained of it being a 2 headed beast, this simple change really helps joint the two parts together.
Another big change is the settings menu, when Win8 shipped it was clear Redmond ran out of time here, leaving you running for the Control Panel regularly. Thankfully after the 8.1 update arrived, I’ve been into the control panel only twice.
The larger tile mode in 8.1 is great, however until 8.1 ships we won’t know how many developers have jumped to support it. This feature will be much more useful on high resolution displays, if you’re lucky enough to have a retina display, you’ll love the larger tiles. The smaller tiles are a recognition that not all apps are equal. Some are there for sometime use and you don’t want them taking up valuable real estate, so it’s a welcome addition.
While we’re talking about things that are influenced by Windows Phone, let’s talk about the issue of search. Microsoft have taken a backwards step on search in this release of Windows. On Windows Phone 7, and Windows 8, the OS-level search was contextual to the application you were in. Now in Windows Phone 8, the search key just takes you to Bing and in 8.1, developers are encouraged to surface a UI element to search. I don’t agree with this change, at best it should be an option.
The multiple display support and adjustments to app snap sizes is a very big improvement. Resolution dependent, I have used 6 windows of the metro version of IE11 open across 2×27” displays. So much for apps being fullscreen only, this makes the new part of the OS, dramatically improved when it comes to productivity.
Windows 8.1 will begin rolling out worldwide as a free update for consumers on Windows 8 through the Windows Store. It’s likely those of us with 8.1 preview installed will have to format and reinstall to move to the RTM version. This has been the case in other updates to the OS. There’s no word on an earlier release date for MSDN subscribers.
More information at Windows Blog.