Here’s what’s new in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 is set to be released to the public on Oct. 18 via the Windows Store. A few weeks ago Microsoft confirmed that the final RTM version was released to its hardware partners and it recently made Windows 8.1 RTM available on MSDN and TechNet. I’m a TechNet subscriber and have been testing out this final build. A few things have changed between the finalized RTM version and the Preview release. Here’s a look at some of the more notable changes you can expect.

New Windows 8.1 apps

I showed you some of the new built-in Bing apps and other utilities for Windows 8.1. All of them are still available in the final 8.1 release. And now apps like Mail and SkyDrive have gotten even more powerful features.

One of the biggest complaints about Windows 8 apps was that the Mail was half-baked. The update has improved Mail to be a useable and efficient email client. This newly designed version is a full featured and the experience is much like that of Outlook.com.

Windows 8.1 Mail App

All Images Credit: Brian Burgess

Microsoft’s cloud storage service, SkyDrive, is built-in and there’s both a modern UI and desktop version. You no longer need to download and install a separate desktop version. You’ll find that SkyDrive is deeply integrated and the app has been improved with more functionality. One of the neat new features is the ability to search your local drive structure.

It makes SkyDrive a modern version of File Explorer, and even allows you to access files and folders on other systems on a network, connected external drives and mobile devices.

Windows 8.1 SkyDrive File Explorer

In this example I navigated to data stored on Windows Home Server. The ability to easily access network locations will be especially beneficial to users of Windows RT devices.

Windows 8.1 SkyDrive Search home Server

One of the apps I showed you previously was Help & Support which wasn’t yet complete in the Preview build. Now it’s complete, and this should satisfy earlier criticisms of Windows 8 for its lack of help for new users. It comes with detailed information in six categories.

Windows 8.1 Help & Tips

Microsoft has included a Getting Around section in the Help+Tips app categories – including short screencasts demonstrating gestures.

Windows 8.1 Get Around

There’s also the ability to search for specific topics you need help with. After a search query Internet Explorer 11 opens in a separate screen so you can see results side-by-side.

Windows 8.1 Help and Tips Search

The modern version of Internet Explorer 11 has new settings including a Reading view that you can customize.

Windows 8.1 Internet Explorer 11

It also includes a new Sync Tabs feature that allows you to view tabs between Windows 8.1 devices.

Windows 8.1 Tab Syncing

Xbox Music continues to improve with new updated features that are rolling out steadily. With Xbox Music Pass ($9.99 per month) you can sync your songs and playlists between Windows 8.1 computers and devices, Xbox 360, and Windows Phone 8. Also, Microsoft launched Xbox Music apps for Android and iOS as well as a web-based version.

Windows 8.1 Xbox Music

New Windows 8.1 navigation hints

As you begin working through the operating system after you’ve set up Windows 8.1 as a new user, you’ll see navigation hints pop up. This is an example of an animated hint on using the app switcher.

Windows 8.1 Visual Cues

And this one pops up when you first access the Charms bar. These animated tips are yet another feature that will help new users understand how to get around. And don’t worry, they don’t pop up all the time, just the first time you start using it.

Windows 8.1 Animated Tips

Changes to the Windows 8.1 desktop

I’ve already shown you some essential navigation tips for Windows 8.1. Those tips are still valid, but some subtle changes been made since my first report.

For instance, when you right-click the Start button, or hit Windows Key + X, it displays options to sleep, shut down, and restart as well as the Sign Out option.

Windows 8.1 Start Button

If you want to boot directly to the desktop and keep the modern UI out of the way as much as possible while working on the desktop, those navigation settings are still there. But the menu for them has been changed slightly in the final version.

Windows 8.1 Navigation Properties Windows 8.1 RTM

Windows 8.1 is a drastic improvement over the initial Windows 8 release. You can expect Microsoft to continue to improve upon Windows 8.1 too – via system patches and app updates. These are just some of the more notable changes the company has made in just a couple of months between the 8.1 preview and final build. Windows 8.1 will be free to all existing Windows 8 users starting October 18th. That’s also the day new desktops, laptops, and convertible devices will ship with 8.1 preinstalled.

Brian Burgess
Brian Burgess resides in Minnesota. A technology enthusiast his entire life, he worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. In addition to contributing to Tech Page One, he’s the Editor in Chief at groovyPost.com, a contributor to Gizmag, and has written for other notable tech sites Byte, InformationWeek, and How-To Geek.
Brian Burgess
Tags: Software,Technology
  • Lisa Matrasko

    Thanks for the great overview! #iwork4dell