Windows 8.1 preview ready for download, if you dare
Microsoft just might win some kind of award for listening to its customers. After customers went up in arms over the Xbox One's DRM, the company completely reversed course. And when Windows 8 left many desktop PC users grumbling over a forced touch-centric future that they weren't quite ready for, the company also made some adjustments, in the form of Windows 8.1. If you're feeling particularly frisky, you can now download the first public preview of that update formerly known as "Blue."
After months of leaks and an official announcement, Microsoft today finally put a pre-release version of Windows 8.1 in customers' hands. To get in on the action, just visit Microsoft's preview page or install through the Windows Store.
Keep in mind that the preview isn't intended for the general public, and you might have issues returning to Windows 8 if you have problems. This is for developers and beta-testing daredevils only. The final version will release as a free update sometime later this year.
New featuresOne of Windows 8.1's most obvious new features is the return of the trusty old Start Button to the desktop. But before you get too excited, this isn't the Start Menu from Windows 7 and earlier. The new one is nothing more than a shortcut to the Metro-esque Start Screen. Another much-requested feature, the ability to boot straight into the desktop, appears as well.
Microsoft has also added some personalization features to that Start Screen, like new colors and the ability to add your own photos. It also adds new tile sizes to the Start Screen (a larger one and a smaller one), so you can organize everything just how you like it. Redmond also threw in a preventative measure: in order to prevent accidental reordering of tiles, you now hold down (touch) or right-click (keyboard) to rearrange those Metro-tastic tiles.
New apps will no longer be automatically added to the Start Screen in Windows 8.1. Instead, there will be a new app drawer that you activate by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. You can then choose which new apps end up on the Start Screen. You can also adjust the width of windows when running two Metro apps side-by-side.
The Windows 8.1 Search charm also gets a big update, providing instant global search results for things like files, apps, and web results. The Windows Store receives a much-needed update too, making it easier to find new apps (top free apps, new releases, etc.).
You can check out Microsoft's blog post on Windows 8.1 to get the full breakdown of the OS' new features.