Beyond the return of the Start button, which we’ve covered extensively, the most visible changes in Windows 8.1 are on the Metro side of the equation — in fact, the Desktop is mostly unchanged. The on-screen keyboard is now a lot easier and faster to use. The Start screen now has a couple of new tile sizes (large, very small), and there are many more customization options (colors, wallpapers). The Lock screen can now act as a slideshow, and you can answer a Skype call without unlocking. The new Control Panel (in Metro) has been significantly beefed up, allowing you to configure most aspects of your system without having to jump to the Desktop Control Panel.
For mouse-and-keyboard users, the return of the Start button isn’t the only olive branch: The Charms menu, if activated by a mouse, now clusters the buttons in the top right corner, nearer your mouse. Interacting with the Metro interface is easier with the mouse, too.
For both Metro and Desktop users, Windows 8.1 includes a built-in version of SkyDrive that syncs your entire device — no longer do you need one SkyDrive app to cover Metro, and another to cover the Desktop! The much-updated Search tool, powered by Bing and with tweaks to help mouse-and-keyboard users, is very neat indeed.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the Windows Store has been overhauled. App discovery and individual app listings are severely improved. Built-in apps such as Internet Explorer (now up to version 11), Photos, Mail, and Xbox Music are all much improved, too. CEO Steve Ballmer also mentioned on stage in San Francisco that Facebook has finally committed to building a Windows 8.1 Metro app.
Download the Windows 8.1 preview now You will have to download a patch, reboot, and then the Windows 8.1 update will be available from the Windows Store.
Download the Windows 8.1 preview now.