The name is somewhat confusing: Windows 8.1 Update is itself an update to the sweeping Windows 8.1 update that Microsoft released last October. While it isn’t as drastic as that first update to Windows 8, this spring’s patch should bring a smile to the face of disgruntled owners of non-touchscreen Windows 8 PCs. As promised, it brings a swathe of small, yet welcome tweaks that make it far easier to navigate the operating system using a keyboard and mouse.
One behind-the-scenes tweak is especially helpful: The Windows 8.1 Update detects whether or not you’re using a touchscreen device and dynamically boots to either the finger-friendly Start screen or the traditional Windows desktop, depending on your setup.
Windows 8 apps can now be minimized or even pinned to the desktop toolbar. Modern apps docked in the toolbar can take advantage of jump lists or Microsoft’s “peek” feature, just like traditional desktop software. The taskbar also appears in Metro apps now.
In fact, the Windows Store app is automatically pre-pinned to the Windows 8.1 Update taskbar, and the Windows Store itself has been rejiggered for greater keyboard-and-mouse-friendliness.
There have been mouse-friendly tweaks to the modern UI side of things, too. If you’re using a traditional PC, Metro apps now sport a menu bar at the top, allowing you to close and minimize the apps with ease, or opt to shrink the app using Windows 8’s Snap multitasking feature.
A right-click context menu also appears on the modern Start screen if you’re using a mouse, bypassing Windows 8’s usual pop-up options bar at the bottom of the screen. The context menu contains all the same options, letting you resize, open, uninstall, or unpin the Modern apps selected.
The Start screen now sports discrete Search and Power buttons next to the user profile, dragging the crucial features out into the sun from the hidden Charms bar where they usually reside. Windows will also suggest apps to install if anything applicable is discovered while you’re performing a Bing Smart Search.
Internet Explorer 11 received an Enterprise mode, which allows you to view legacy intranet websites using the modern browser, a feature likely targeted at businesses reluctant to migrate from Windows XP.
Don’t think Microsoft’s tossing the baby out with the bathwater, though. “What we’ve done to make touch great is unaffected by these changes,” said Microsoft exec Joe Belfiore. “They’re still present, but not required for mouse and keyboard users.”
Brad Chacos spends his days digging through desktop PCs and tweeting too much. He specializes in graphics cards and gaming, but covers everything from security to Windows tips and all manner of PC hardware.