Microsoft crushes critique with Windows 8.1

As Steve Ballmer took the stage at Microsoft’s annual BUILD developer conference, he was quick to pull focus on the company’s new “rapid development” cycle.

With Windows 8.1, the release features over 700 updates since release last November, quicker than the usual three year update!

Although not billed as a major release, many would certainly call it so. The new features and enhancements drastically change how the system functions, and is much more comprehensive than it would first appear.

Let’s get this out the way first; the Start Button is back.

Available in every release since Windows 95; the button became a familiar sight for users which had completely confused many at its removal. It doesn’t matter how technically-able you are, I’m sure it took anyone a couple of minutes at least to find it, Chris Pirillo’s dad gave-up.

He wasn’t the only person, many just simply got too frustrated. It was an undeniably stupid decision to remove on Microsoft’s part, but their next 8.1 decision could be even worse...

“Boot to Desktop.” Whilst many users would be overjoyed at the ability to boot straight into the familiar desktop environment, very few will ever use the “Modern UI” which is utterly fantastic.

Yes it had major problems, yes it had a lack of applications, but yes these appear to have been fixed.

For configurations which lack a touch-input it makes perfect sense, as much as Microsoft tried to prove otherwise, navigating the UI is simply unintuitive using keyboard and mouse.

Yet touch is the future, and this is an OS prime for the future. Any new PC from now should be touch-enabled and ship with Windows 8, it’s a killer combination. Any old PC should arguably remain on Windows 7.

Although I use Windows 8 myself on an old (non-touch) PC and love it, 1) I’m in the minority, and 2) I would also make the case it’s simply not as convenient to use.

It’s easy to see and praise Microsoft’s future vision; the same fantastic interface across PC, Mobile, and Console. This isn’t a far off future; we just need to have trust in Redmond.

What adds to the trust of consumers? Well, the trust of developers.

Microsoft has been actively trying to push “Modern UI” as the way forward, yet perhaps their most important application, Office, was built in the desktop environment.

Now it looks like the Windows team have fixed this with the next update to Office; which utilises the full-screen, flat-styling of this next-generation UX. Along with this, a couple of those “killer apps” which denote a platform’s success or failure will be releasing apps; Facebook, and Flipboard.

These applications can now be opened in their dedicated “snap views” up to four at once, side-by-side. This really helps to notch up the productivity level of the OS.

We could be here forever talking about all of Windows 8’s core application updates, just know pretty much every one of them has been updated better than ever before, there’s a lot of innovation here which has greatly improved the – already fantastic – Modern UI experience.

I’m a fan of the “little touches” so just one example I’ll give you is the Cooking application, because you’re likely to be using this in the kitchen with messy fingers; the webcam is enabled for gestures so you can swipe between pages.

Whilst all of this is extremely exciting, despite being how Windows 8 should have shipped, the best part is the rapid pace of development which Ballmer and team have set.

What are your thoughts and opinions of Windows 8.1? Is the OS ready for the future?

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