I doubt I was alone in rolling my eyes when I first used Windows 8 a year ago. I found its touch controls and gestures awkward, and I was troubled by how little its primary, tile-based interface could do on its own.
For many basic tasks, I had to return to the system's traditional desktop mode, the one that resembles older versions of Windows. It felt as though I was working on two different computers at once.
Since then, I've warmed up to many of those touch controls and gestures, such that I've even tried to use them absentmindedly out of habit on my touch-less MacBook laptop. And the free Windows 8.1 update released Thursday addresses many of my remaining gripes.
Windows is still far from perfect. It continues to come across as a work in progress. But Windows 8.1 shows Microsoft is listening. People who already have Windows 8 will find digital life more pleasant with the update.
What was so bad about Windows 8's tile mode previously?
* I could open only 10 Web pages at a time in Internet Explorer and pages would automatically close once I had hit the limit, without any prompts or choice of which one. With Windows 8.1, there's no limit.
* The browser in Windows 8 didn't let me view more than one Web page at once. Sure, I could open 10 tabs, but I could see only one at a time. I couldn't leave a news site or Facebook open on one side of Window's new split screen for multitasking while I checked Gmail on another. With Windows 8.1, I can open a "new window" rather than a "new tab" using a right click to have a second page visible.
* That limitation also applied to Window 8's Mail app. With Windows 8.1, I can now have two messages open at once. And if I click on an attachment, it opens to the side rather than replace what I'm reading. The Mail app's layout adjusts to fit into the remaining space.
* I could access some computer settings from the tile-based interface, but Windows 8 sent me to the desktop for many others, including changing the display screen's resolution and controlling how quickly energy-saving measures kicked in. Now I can adjust that and more from the tile-based interface in Windows 8.1, though I still can't check the specific percentage of battery life I have left without going to the