Gives Windows 8 a much-needed shot in the arm, but we don't recommend installing this on your main PC - instead, test it in a virtual environment.
Platform: Windows 8 compatible, Windows Vista 64-bit, Windows 7, Windows 7 64-bit, Windows Vista, Windows XP
License: Free for personal use only
Less than a year after Windows 8 was released to a distinctly mixed reaction, the first major update is on its way. Windows 8.1 will be free to existing Windows 8 users, and sees Microsoft shift to a different model for Windows releases, adopting a similar approach to Apple whereby updates will come along on an annual basis.
Windows 8.1 can be seen as Windows 8 Service Pack 1 - the changes are significant, but it's not a radical shift to yet another new platform. This Release Preview gives you your first glimpse into how Windows will change with this next release, and while it's possible to install it over the top of your existing Windows 8 installation, we strongly recommend you don't put your main system at risk.
Instead, we suggest installing Windows 8.1 into a virtual machine such as VirtualBox. Then use the ISO image to install it from scratch, using the following product key when prompted: NTTX3-RV7VB-T7X7F-WQYYY-9Y92F
So what's new in Windows 8.1? A lot has been made of the new Start button, but this simply provides one-click access back to the Start screen (you can, at least, right-click it to access the Quick Access menu). The Start screen has received a more radical makeover, split into two sections with the Apps view now more visible via the down arrow button that appears towards the bottom of the screen.
The main Start screen now boasts larger tiles, with four resizing options available (large, wide, medium and small). Up to four apps can now be displayed on-screen together too. But if you still can't get along with the new look, you can configure Windows 8.1 to boot straight to the desktop - right-click the Taskbar in desktop mode and choose Properties > Navigation to do so. You can switch off corner navigation from here too.
The Settings app has been revamped to offer more features usually hidden behind the Control Panel (which is still available in desktop view, thankfully), and some new apps have been included by default, including SkyDrive. Windows 8.1 ships with Internet Explorer 11, which promises better performance through WebGL support as well as other tweaks.
Other changes are minor, but no less welcome: the Start charm now opens a panel rather than taking over the entire screen, and defaults to all items rather than apps. It all adds up to a much-needed shot in the arm for Windows 8 users, and feels like Windows XP after Service Pack 1 resolved a number of major niggles with the then-fledgling OS. But will it be enough to tempt those stubbornly wedded to earlier versions of Windows into upgrading? Only time will tell.
This is the English (US) 64-bit version supplied as an ISO image.