After much fanfare and anticipation, the Windows 8.1 preview has finally been released to the public. After getting my hands on the ISO I was able to install it and get a first look at some of the major changes. I had very high hopes coming in to this trial and I must say, I'm pretty happy with what I see.
The much maligned user interface got quite a few updates that should please everyone, even desktop users. You now have the option to boot directly to the desktop, there's a Start button and you can opt to turn off the upper hot corners to prevent interference when closing and working with desktop applications.
The Start screen got some love in the form of new customization options. There are now two new tile sizes, you can carry your desktop wallpaper over to the Start screen and you can have the Start screen default to the All Apps view.
With the exception of the Start button, most of these new interface tweaks have to be enabled before you can test them out. Check out the Navigation tab of the desktop taskbar properties to get started.
Lesser known, but still spiffy features include enhanced PC settings, a Bing infused Search charm that displays multimedia results from the Internet, better SkyDrive integration and even a Help and How-to app (which should have been there from Day 1).
All told, the complete package is pretty impressive. There's a lot to look at, and the more I find the more impressed I am. It's clear that Microsoft has heard a lot of the complaints since Windows 8's release and is at least trying to fix a few.
While I understand that many users will be disappointed (to put it lightly) that the Start button is simply a visual cue to get to the Start screen, I think even the most die-hard 8-haters will find features to love. Switch the Start screen default to All Apps, kill the app switcher and top-right Charms bar activation and Windows 8.1 feels a lot more like Windows 7.
If you're unhappy with Windows 8, I encourage you to give Windows 8.1 a try, just don't install it over your primary installation or you'll lose your apps. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Image above used with permission from Microsoft.