Even as Microsoft prepares for a future dominated by touch-screen devices, it is steering its Windows system to embrace more of the past.
The divide between old and new is less pronounced in the latest, free update. That's a welcome change, as that's one of the things that annoy me most about Windows 8.
As sales of smartphones and tablets grow rapidly, Microsoft reshaped Windows so that PCs came to look, work and feel more like mobile devices.
Windows 8 has a full-page, tablet-like start screen filled with large icons, or tiles. Traditional mouse and keyboard controls still work, but it's more efficient if you use touch-screen controls. Windows 8 has a desktop mode that resembles older versions of Windows, but it steers users toward the touch-centric tile mode.
Many people hated Windows 8 when it came out in October 2012.
Microsoft responded a year later with Windows 8.1. With the free update, people can change settings to boot computers directly into the desktop. Windows 8.1 restores a Start button on the lower left corner of the desktop, though without all the functionality found in older versions. Windows 8.1 also lets people add their favorite desktop apps to a horizontal taskbar at the bottom of the screen.
In short, Windows 8.1 doesn't try to force people into the tile screen as often.
Still, Windows 8.1 feels like two separate systems. Your favorite desktop apps are on the desktop's horizontal taskbar, while your favorite tile-mode apps are on the tile-based start screen. How you perform tasks such as closing an app depends on which mode you're in.
Last week's update, simply called Windows 8.1 Update, brings more consistency:
- The tile screen now has prominent buttons for key controls - namely search and shutting down. No longer do you have to figure out how to pull those options out like a sock drawer from the right side of the screen. Microsoft could have gone further by also including a button for settings, but I'm getting greedy.
- Closing apps in the tile mode used to require moving your cursor to the top, clicking the mouse or pressing the screen until the app shrinks and dragging all that to the bottom. Gone was the ''x'' at the top right of all apps to close them.
That ''x'' is back, along with a button to minimize, or hide, the app while leaving it