Touching first on what Microsoft didn't include, there is continued effort to de-prioritize Windows Media Center — perhaps in an attempt to have users instead migrate towards using media apps in the native home screen. This is compounded by new buyers having to pay extra for DVD support with their purchase. Also de-emphasized is the Library function, which seems to be part of an evolution towards accessing everything through the SkyDrive cloud search instead.
Those aside, here are the major user features that just might make you consider an upgrade:
1. Start Button
Finally, after an avalanche of complaints, Microsoft returned the Start button. This feature was much-missed by Windows users and caused massive confusion for those used to the default orienting point of their PC experience. The Start menu is also back in a much more pared-down and modified version. Users still have to switch from the default Home view to view the Start button on startup.
Having prioritized indexing and search functions in previous versions, Microsoft goes a bit further to match mobile device capabilities with universal searching. The new Windows allows single search from multiple sources – PC, apps and the web. A notable feature is the tight integration with SkyDrive, which is now the default location for saving files. This couples with Bing’s full integration with search, resulting in a rich graphics-oriented search experience.
3. Improved Multitasking
There are a number of small changes that will make it easier to multitask, including side-by-side browsing of websites in the new Explorer 11, faster app loading, and ability to resize apps on the home screen.
4. 3D Printing
Moving ahead with the technology, Microsoft aimed to make 3D printing as easy as 2D printing with the new operating system. In any application working with 3D design, one just has to hit the print button and a 3D object starts printing using the Windows 3D printing flow.
Any new tech product needs ability to customize to reflect the consumer’s taste. Microsoft fell flat with the previous release of Windows 8 and has learned its lesson by adding many more features, starting with additional customization for the lock and start screens. Many people like to use their screen as a digital photo frame (especially with tablets). Microsoft integrated this feature along with the a much wider range of colors and accent combinations.
The Microsoft Store has always been a sad shadow of Apple’s iTunes. Microsoft is keen to learn from some of Blackberry’s mistakes and focused on bolstering their App Store, where they now have over 70,000 apps with a much better designed experience. Also helpful (and following Android’s lead) is the ability to have apps update automatically. Some of the more exciting native apps include Outlook, Explorer 11, XBox Music app and a fairly sophisticated and easy to use photo editor.
Microsoft continues to push its Windows platform across multiple devices — especially mobile. To encourage users to make the switch (or first tablet purchase) it’s included full syncing capabilities so that apps, app data and services are automatically available, no matter what device you’re working on.
Microsoft has offered peripheral support for fingerprint readers for some time, but with this latest release fully integrates biometric readers directly into the operating system. Now users will be able to encrypt specific folders and files using fingerprints or retina scanners. Windows 8.1 Bitlocker encryption now is turned on by default now, which should offer comfort for those with security as a concern.