Microsoft Releases Windows 8.1, Brings Back Beloved Start Button

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windowsembedPhoto: Courtesy Microsoft.

Today, Microsoft released Windows 8.1, the latest upgrade to its operating system. It's been a long time coming. When Windows 8 was released around this time last year, it introduced dual interfaces: one with a tablet-style series of touchable tiles, and the other the classic desktop mode. Users found the two confusing and frustrating. InformationWeek put it bluntly when it said, "A big flop. Its Frankenstein interface combines two fundamentally incompatible operating systems." Those two interfaces are retained in the update, but Micrsoft did reincorporate its classic Start button, which was lost in the original 8.0 version, along with several new features.

This attempt at dual interfaces, however, might have been doomed from the beginning. "By trying to address both tablets and PCs, Microsoft ended up not serving either particularly well," writes CNET's Shara Tibkin. "If a user didn't have a touch-screen PC, Windows 8 became a confusing mess." She gives Microsoft credit for adding back some missed features, but stops short of praising the update. "[It's] the operating system that Windows 8 should have been."

The New York Times' David Pogue, however, says that the changes to the tablet-style interface "are nearly endless — and terrific." The Photos and Music apps have "matured," he says, while new apps like Food and Drink provide added functionality. He lauds the new Help and Tips apps, too — though one could argue that apps like those should be less neccessary if you're working with an intuitive design.

If you want to read about the whole Windows 8.1 kit and kaboodle, AP's Ryan Nakashima breaks down all of the features here. The update is free for current owners of Windows 8; you'll find it in the Windows Store app. Tomorrow, new computers will come with the operating system preinstalled, and other users can purchase standalone copies of the software. (CNET)