Windows 8.1 brings welcome user interface tweaks to Microsoft's touch-centric platform, plus a heap of innovative new features and capabilities. However, we fear that the Metro-style user interface will still be the stumbling block for many users, especially those using existing Windows applications.
More customisable user interface, new wireless support, better mobility and BYOD features for business
Metro-style user interface still jars, little reason to upgrade for Windows 7 users
Free upgrade from Windows 8, otherwise Windows 8.1 £99.99, Windows 8.1 Pro £189.99
Minimum hardware requirements:
Processor: 1GHz or faster with support for Physical Address Extension, NX bit, and SSE2
RAM: 1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit)
Hard disk space: 16GB (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit)
Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
Display: Tablet or monitor with multitouch support
Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system has been given a refresh to Windows 8.1 just a year after its full release, delivering a whole tranche of changes to the user interface as well as adding more capabilities designed to tempt the all-important enterprise customers into upgrading.
Long-time Windows users have grown used to the old adage that you should never deploy a Microsoft product before the first Service Pack is released. As Windows 8.1 is effectively Windows 8 SP1, this cliché still holds true, as the update seeks to address many of the flaws and issues users experienced with the original release.
To be fair to Microsoft, Windows 8.1 does smooth out many of the rough edges of the first release. And as we wrote in our original review of Windows 8, there is a broad range of useful features that will appeal to enterprise IT departments, and Microsoft has expanded on these in the update.
However, the elephant in the room for most seasoned Windows users is the touch-optimised Metro-style user interface itself. Despite the very welcome changes to this in Windows 8.1, we have our doubts whether Microsoft has made enough concessions here to win over the die-hard refuseniks who want to keep the traditional desktop.
Windows 8.1 is a free update for anyone already running Windows 8, while users of other versions of Windows can purchase it from the Microsoft Store.
For all intents and purposes, the Metro user interface is the defining feature of Windows 8, and Microsoft is striving to make it more palatable to existing users with the Windows 8.1 update.
While Metro still revolves around a screen of blocky live tiles representing applications, more of the Start screen can now be customised. Many of the built-in tiles can be resized to a larger or smaller tile in order to show more live updates or content, and the tiles can also be organised into named groups as the user chooses.
In fact, Microsoft has simultaneously made Windows 8.1 more smartphone-like, while also trying to please existing Windows users. For example, users can now customise the lock screen to show an image of their choosing, or display a slide show of photos from the Pictures library. You can also set some apps to continue to run when your device is locked, and show updates on the lock screen.
Next: More on user interface