Microsoft makes Windows 8.1 mouse-friendly

Windows 8.1's little changes are a huge improvement

NEW YORK — Microsoft will send out a free update to Windows 8.1 next week that will improve the experience for mouse and keyboard users.

Since its release nearly two years ago, Windows 8 has been a work in progress. Microsoft’s latest update will get it closer to a finished state.

According to Microsoft, the company’s goal with its latest update is to further blur the line between the legacy desktop mode, and the “Modern” tile-based interface.

At its annual Build developers conference in San Francisco, Microsoft said many of the changes to Windows 8.1 will address that issue directly — a problem had has contributed to slumping Windows sales. (Click here to follow our Microsoft Build live blog).

Windows will detect when it is running on a laptop or desktop — as opposed to a tablet — and automatically navigate to desktop mode when unlocking the computer. Tablets will still unlock into the tile-based Start screen, however.

When using Modern apps with a mouse and keyboard, there will be a desktop-style title bar that appears at the top of the screen, allowing users to quickly minimize or exit an app.

The taskbar, a staple of the desktop user interface in Windows, will now be accessible from anywhere in the operating system, including the Start screen. When users mouse all the way down to the bottom of the Start screen or a Modern app, the taskbar will float up from the bottom with all their favorite pinned apps.

If you open a Modern app from the desktop mode, it will open the app in the typical full screen mode and behave like a Modern app. But when you close or minimize the app, it will take you back to the desktop.

Modern apps will also be able to be pinned to the taskbar, which should theoretically make it quicker and easier for people who primarily operate out of the desktop interface to access those newer apps.

Microsoft also made a few tweaks to the Start screen and Modern apps meant to help both the mouse and keyboard users — and also those new to Windows 8.

When someone right clicks on the Start screen, the secondary context menu will more closely resemble what you’d get on the desktop, which adds a layer of familiarity. When new apps are installed, the Start screen will alert how many new apps are waiting for users in the second layers of the menu, in case they weren’t aware that the shortcuts were lurking below. And the search and power (restart and shut down) buttons will be more readily accessible from the main Start screen, for anyone unaware of how Microsoft’s “charms” work (they’re hidden on the right side of the screen.

There’s also a bonus for those using tablets or small hard drives: The Windows 8.1 update will apparently shrink the storage space for the operating system down by 60%, which means more usable drive space.

The update to Windows 8.1 is not as big or major as the Windows 8.1 release was last year, but there are enough refinements here to keep inching it closer to being a true operating system for both tablets and desktops.

One frequently requested feature — the return of the Start menu button — isn’t part of the new Windows 8.1 release. But it is coming back…some day. Microsoft said it is planning a future update that will bring back a more traditional Start Menu features, as well as the ability to run Modern apps in a window on the desktop.

The Windows 8.1 update will be available as a free download via Windows Update and the Windows Store starting on April 8.

One Windows: Another big initiative for Microsoft is unifying its PC, mobile, Xbox and Kinect platforms Windows Phone and Windows will remain separate platforms, but moving forward, they will be able to run the same Modern-style apps.

The biggest benefit of this shift is clearly for app developers, who won’t have to spend resources developing two completely different apps. But there’s also consumer benefit: Since these new cross-platform apps will come in one universal package, users can purchase an app once and install across all their Windows devices. Furthermore, any in-app purchases will also be saved across multiple devices.

As more developers shift from making PC apps to these new, cross-platform Modern apps, it’s easy to imagine a day in the near future when you could dock a smartphone to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard and get a near-PC experience.

9 comments

  • American Citizen

    I am an IT professional and have been since 1997. Microsoft has lost touch with every consumer with Windows 8. It’s not ready for the business world by ANY means, and most “home” users also find it very difficult and frustrating to use. It’s almost laughable that they are just now realizing that most people use a mouse and keyboard when using a PC. I think they should give the user options upfront on whether or not they want to use the traditional input devices or a touch based system. Instead Microsoft insults our intelligence by deciding for us what is best. There was no need to totally change something that has worked pretty well so far. It’s like Ford designing a “new” car, and putting the steering wheel in the back seat, the brake pedal on the roof, the headlight switch in the trunk and the door handle… wait… they forgot the door handle….

    • Nope.

      Buddy, you WERE a professional. You’re now ‘outdated’ and ‘yesterday’s generation’….Get real. I’m in IT too.

      • American Citizen

        Did you read the article… or just comment on my post??? Microsoft said ” we got it wrong, we’re trying to fix it…It’s been out 2 years and we’re trying to get it “finished”… Give me a break!! I’m not out dated, I support many different types of businesses in this area, and NONE of them are running windows 8 as a business platform.. because IT DOESN’T WORK!!!! I have installed every server OS since NT, 2000, 2003, 2008 and 2011, and 2012. Along with every PC and Mac OS. I work for doctors, lawyers, manufacturers and service providers. I have hundreds of PC’s and a few Macs in the field and I think I’m more than qualified to make the statements I made. Why do you think Dell and HP still offer Win 7 Pro on the business class PC’s? There are still many software vendors and hardware makers that don’t support Win 8. Microsoft is going after the bucks, chasing Mac and the “cool factor”.. this story will end in disappointment for Microsoft AND it’s customers. REMEMBER Millennium? Remember VISTA???? News flash… Microsoft makes mistakes! And I think you made one too. I don’t think complaining about a terrible OS, that MILLIONS of poeple hate, that doesn’t work, and was NEVER ready for deployment is being “whiney”..

    • Nope.

      I guess I should back up my accusation with a claim. You sound like every basic user complaining about the switch from Vista to Seven. I don’t think it’s perfect. Especially with no hotkey guide or full applet support in the Tile/Metro interface. Buuuuut….You’re just whiney. It’s light, stable, FINALLY with UEFI consolidated the recovery console away from crappy manufacturers…but…hey…They missed those ‘door handles’

  • Nope. x2.

    @ american citizen…You seriously backed up an article addressing complaints for laymen users. The ONLY reason 8.1 got released was because of laymen users complained that it was too high tech. Like every person over 40 complaining about smartphones. You whined about non usability. Like you were one of them. You back up your claim by stating you’ve installed operating systems; wow. Slow clap? Slow clap. Then you tell me you’ve serviced many-a-customer….do you work at Best Buy or Staples? Is it…is it Geek Squad, or Easy Tech. I was there….Don’t worry pal. I was there. Yeah. Many software developers aren’t supporting it. Very valid point. Especially windows rt. Now THATS a bloody disaster. Companies make mistakes. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Atleast I supported my claims with valid technological developments that the ‘other os *see macintosh*’ had going for it. I do love a good debate though.

    • American Citizen

      Nope.. not much of a debate going on here as I see it. You’ve been drinking the Microsoft kool-aid… FYI… I am a private contractor, I own two different computer and network support based companies. The geek squad couldn’t suport a business if they tried… oh yeah, they did try… and FAILED! Walk into ANY big box store and ask for a PC that can join a domain, and watch their faces. They don’t have a clue! My comment on the article wasn’t backed up by lay-user complaints as much as it was absolute fact. I had no trouble with Windows 7 migrating into the business world. As for 8 being to high-tech for me, it’s just the opposite. It’s dumed down, trying to think for me, not giving me options. Everything is moved, upside down and backwards from what is has been and should be, There’s a reason we don’t have jet turbines, joy-sticks in our cars. Why do you think the steering wheel, gas pedal and turn signals are STILL in the same place they’ve been for more than 100 years. If you and Microsoft think THIS is progress, you’re dead wrong. Microsoft has at least noticed the slow sales due to customer opinion and they’re bringing back support for the mouse and keyboard….. what a novel idea! They are thinking that everyone wants a PC that looks and acts like their smart-phone, and they’re WRONG. I get calls almost on a daily basis in regards to issues with Windows 8. Can’t get much “real world” than that. When was the last time you walked into and office and saw a purchasing agent, an accountant, or CEO trying to get corporate business done on a tablet or phone??? Don’t get me wrong, these devises have their place but they will never replace a standard desktop/laptop PC when it comes to the corporate world getting business done. True progress in anything, espcially technology, should promote growth, stability, and a “better world” for us to live and work in. Windows 8 has fallen short of this goal. Microsoft has acknowledged this, and so should you.

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