The good news is that you can see the future of Windows 8 now. It’s available as a download from Microsoft and you can install it on your existing Windows 8 machine apparently without disturbing what’s already there. But there’s more good news.
Windows 8.1 now allows you to boot directly into the Windows Desktop instead of the much maligned Start Screen with its tiled interface. The new version also brings back the Start Button and adds some significant usefulness to Windows 8. But the Start Button isn’t exactly what you got used to in Windows 7 and earlier versions of Windows.
You have a choice of how you want to perform a Windows 8.1 upgrade. The easiest way is to use the Windows Store from an existing Windows 8 computer. The upgrade process acts like any other software update, although the download takes a while. You’ll need to sign in to your Microsoft account while you do this, and you’ll need to implement Microsoft’s two-factor authentication, so have your cell phone handy.
You can also download the ISO file from Microsoft and upgrade a machine running an earlier version of Windows. Windows 8 upgrades maintain your existing apps, settings and personal information. With earlier versions you may have to perform a clean install.
Once Windows 8.1 is up and operational, it will look like Windows 8 with one obvious exception. In the lower left corner of the screen there’s the new Windows logo, which is the Start Button. Click on that and you switch between the desktop and the Start Screen. But when you right-click on the Start Button, you get a whole new menu of choices.
The new Start Button brings some things to the Start Screen that weren’t available before, including the ability to get to the Control Panel. You can also access the shutdown and restart choices from there. Plus, you can access the networking controls and the task manager, and you can open the search function. One thing you can’t do is get direct access to recently used programs as you could with the old Windows 7 and the earlier Start Button.
Instead, you get access to the most commonly used Windows functions from the Start Button, eliminating the need to open the Control Panel if what you really want is the suite of management tools. The new Start Button is accessible on both the Desktop and the Start screens, and all of the functions are available from both views, which is a significant improvement.
Another improvement comes when you right-click on the task bar, click on Properties and choose the Navigation tab.