Windows 8.1 Update 1 is primarily focused on improving
usability for mouse and keyboard users and will be arriving at about the same
time as support for Windows XP ceases to exist. Coincidence? I think not! 

Let’s face it, Microsoft has a big problem on their hands.
They introduced the touchy feely Windows 8 operating system to what they
thought would be a huge market. The millions of people out there using touch
interfaces on their smartphones and iPads would go crazy for a touch-based version
of Windows, right?

Well, it might have worked if they had come out with two
versions of Windows 8: one with the new interface for touch-based systems and
one with the standard user interface keyboard and mouse-based systems. The
folks who were enamored with the touch interface would have invested in
touch-based Windows 8 systems, including the Surface — and the traditional mouse
and keyboard users, consumers and enterprises alike, would have upgraded from
prior versions of Windows, just like they’ve always done. Sure, Microsoft
would have caught some flak for the touch-based Windows 8, but not nearly the
revolt that’s occurred.

But, as we all know, Microsoft decided that everyone would want a
new touch-based interface, for all systems. They removed the Start
button/Start menu, replaced icons with tiles, put all these touch-based
features on our desktop, and told us we would get used to it. To help us along,
they gave us keyboard shortcuts and showed us how to use a mouse to emulate
touch-based gestures. They even created the Touch Mouse in an effort to make things easier for desktop users.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Windows 8 sales didn’t take off
like they hoped. Surface sales have also been lackluster.

Then we get to Windows XP. There are still a lot of Windows
XP systems out there in homes and businesses, and that crowd has been expressing
their distaste for Windows 8 every chance they get via the Internet, most
notably by vehemently abstaining from upgrading to Windows 8.

Even after Microsoft had been holding XP user’s feet to the
fire for some time with the impending April 8, 2014 end of support deadline, the “rather
fight or switch than upgrade to Windows 8” mantra is as strong now as it
ever was. This fight attitude is showing up in the large numbers vowing to keep
using XP even after official support has ended. The switch attitude is showing
up in those touting alternatives Linux, Mac, Chrome OS, or even
Windows 7.

Of course, Microsoft doesn’t want XP users to fight or
switch, even if it is to Windows 7. They want XP users to happily upgrade to
Windows 8.

So, how are they going to make that happen? Well, if you
look closely, you can see that they’ve already taken some steps to that end
in Windows 8.1. Better yet, if Windows 8.1 Update 1 brings all the mouse and keyboard
features it’s purported to contain, Microsoft may be able to bring those
hard-core XP, mouse and keyboard users back into the fold. Let’s take a closer
look.

Windows 8.1

While Microsoft primarily promoted Windows 8.1 as an update
of the operating system’s touch-based user interface features, the update also
contained a host of features that were designed to entice traditional desktop
mouse and keyboard users into thinking that Windows 8 might indeed be a good
option for them.

Most notably, Windows 8.1 brought back the ability to boot
directly to the desktop. To access it, you just right-click on the taskbar,
select Properties, open the Navigation tab (Figure A), and then select the check box for When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead
of Start. Now, every time you turn on a Windows 8.1 system, you
could almost convince yourself that the operating system was designed for mouse
and keyboard users.

Figure A

 

 

The Navigation tab contains a host of features to make
Windows 8.1 behave more like a desktop operating system.

They even gave the update a more prominent Start button.
While its default action is to open the modern app-filled Start screen, from
the same Navigation tab, it can easily be reconfigured to show the Apps view,
which can essentially be thought of as a full screen Start menu. To make this
Start menu substitute even more usable, the Apps screen can be sorted by
category, by name, date installed, or most used, thus making it easier to find
the application that you need (Figure B).

Figure B

 

 

You can use the Apps view like a full screen Start menu.

Then, to make shutting down, restarting, or signing out more
like previous versions of Windows, Microsoft added the Shut down or Sign out
menu to the Start button’s Quick Link menu, which you access by right-clicking on
the Start button (Figure C). A bit awkward, yes, but it’s an improvement over
the separate methods provided in Windows 8.

Figure C

 

 

You can access the Shut down or Sign out menu on the Start
button’s Quick Link menu.

Then, to make the Start/Apps screen even more palatable, they
made it transparent, thus allowing the desktop wallpaper to be visible behind the screen and improving the illusion that
the desktop is still the center of the operating system.

To make the Modern UI more desktop-like, Windows 8.1
introduced the Snap View feature, which allows you to better use multiple apps at
the same time. Depending on your display resolution, you can have two to
four apps on the screen at one time. Furthermore, apps can now appear on
multiple monitors — so, if you have a two-monitor setup, you can have
up to eight apps open at the same time. Microsoft even went so far as to make the Internet Explorer app more desktop-like by allowing you to see the address bar and tabs all the time.

Another option in Windows 8.1 that’s designed to make the user
interface behave more like a traditional desktop user interface is the ability
to disable the upper corner navigation features. Again, on the Navigation tab,
you simply clear a pair of check boxes (When
I point to the upper-right corner, show the charms and When I click the upper-left corner, switch between my recent apps), and those touch-oriented features go away.

Windows 8.1 Update 1

It’s less than a month until the Windows XP
expiration date, yet only six months since Windows 8.1 was released (October 17,
2013) — and here comes Windows 8.1 Update 1 packed with enhancements designed to
bring out the desktop even more and improve navigation when using a mouse and
keyboard. When you take a closer look at the specific features being added to
this Update 1, it’s easy to see that it’s intended to bring
mouse and keyboard users back into the fold.

While Windows 8.1 introduced the ability to boot directly to
the desktop via an option the user must manually set, Update 1 plans on taking it
one step further and making the boot to desktop the default setting on any
device that lacks a touch screen. This means that mouse and keyboard users will
never encounter the shock of seeing the Start Screen right out of the box, so
to speak.

Most of the other new features are designed to make the modern apps more like traditional Windows applications. For example, the
Taskbar now appears on the Start Screen, and modern apps now appear on the
Taskbar. Making the Start Screen more like the desktop and making modern apps
more like traditional desktop applications should go a long way when navigating Windows 8.1 Update 1 with a mouse.

The Start Screen is now more reminiscent of the old Start
menu, complete with Power and Search buttons. Thus, you no longer have to access the Charms bar first.

The Start Screen and modern apps also have context menus like the traditional desktop. If you right-click on a tile on the Start Screen, you can change the size of the tile, unpin, or even uninstall the app.
Modern apps now have a title bar with minimize and close
buttons, plus context menus with options for the Snap View
features.

Other pertinent information

While Windows XP will no longer be officially supported
after April 8, 2014, which makes it very vulnerable
to hacker attacks, Microsoft is offering the following:

To help organizations complete their migrations,
Microsoft will continue to provide updates to our antimalware signatures and
engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015.

While I was writing this article, but before I noticed,
Microsoft inadvertently let the Windows 8.1 Update 1 bits out of the bag, so to
speak. While they closed the breach fairly quickly, several astute Windows
aficionados caught wind of the snafu and got a hold of the bits. Ed Bott over
at TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet grabbed a copy of Windows 8.1 Update 1 and
put together a nice gallery of images.

What’s your take?

Once Windows 8.1 Update 1 is actually released, I’m sure
that we’ll find other, more subtle changes that are designed to make Windows 8 more
keyboard and mouse friendly. Do you think Windows 8.1
Update 1 will bring mouse and keyboard and Windows XP users back into
the fold? Are you still using Windows XP because you detest the touch-based
user interface? Will these new keyboard and mouse features make you think
differently about Windows 8? Please share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.