Microsoft reveals official Windows 8.1 details: Start button returns, new Live Tile sizes, Snapupgrade, and more


Microsoft is continuing to tease us about the new changes coming in Windows 8.1. We saw a leaked screenshot earlier today about the new Start button coming back to Windows. Now we have official word from Microsoft itself about a ton of features that are being improved or added in Windows 8.1. These changes will apply to both Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, and those who already have Windows 8 won’t have to pay anything to update to Windows 8.1.

Let’s take a look at the information Microsoft revealed today.

Return of the Start button: This is probably the biggest change that everyone wanted to see. The Start button is returning to the desktop environment. As most of you know, Windows 8 killed off the Start button, which brought quite a bit of outrage from Windows users. After enough protesting, Microsoft is bringing it back. Take note, though, it isn’t clear if the Start Menu is coming back or not. All we know is that the Start button is coming back, which will just open the Start screen if the Start Menu is not added back.

Live Tiles in new sizes: Live Tiles are probably one of my favorite features in Windows 8. Especially the Weather live tile. In Windows 8.1, you see extra-small, and extra-large live tiles, in addition to the small and large sizes we already have. Microsoft is betting that power users are going to love the tiny live tile. It’ll allow users to fit four app icons in the same space where there used to be only space for one.

Windows 8.1 will also allow users to select and move multiple live tiles all at once. You can easily name groups as well in the new version of Windows.


Downloaded Apps don’t pin to Start: Currently in Windows 8, apps automatically pin themselves to the Start screen once you’ve downloaded them. In Windows 8.1, that is no longer the case. Which should lead to a more neat Start screen.

All Apps Gesture: Working with the “no pinning” change, there’s a new fast way to see the app apps screen, simply by swiping up. Making it easy to find an app and pin it with new sorting tools that let you list apps by name, most recently downloaded or category.

Auto Updates: This is pretty much self explanatory, but no more manually updating apps. In Windows 8.1, all your apps will update themselves in the middle of the night, so it won’t disturb you while you’re working.

Boot to Desktop: We’ve talked about this before, but in Windows 8.1, you’ll be able to boot directly to the desktop and skip the Start menu. It won’t be enabled by default though.

More Textures and More Colors: Windows 8 shipped with a limited number of color themes, Windows 8.1 will bring a wider variety of those.

Desktop Background Image on Start: You can now have the Start screen in Windows 8.1 mirror the background from your desktop environment. Which will make the UI a bit more seamless.

Global Search: Search has been greatly enhanced in Windows 8.1, it’ll feature more like an omnibox, incorporating apps, documents as well as web content in results.

Snap Upgrade: Snap is the feature that allows you to run apps side-by-side at the same time. But in Windows 8, you can only have one app at 25% of your screen and the other with the 75% of it. Now the percentage will be much more flexible. Allowing you to use 50/50, 60/40, 70/30 or anything in between. See the images below.


Better Multi-Monitor Support: There is a new Settings app, which moves several functions from the desktop to the modern UI, including more options for multi-monitor setups this also allows users to set the resolution of their second monitor if they want.

Reading List: With apps that have content, like Internet Explorer, you’ll be able to save that content to a Reading List. It works with news apps as well like The New York Times and Microsoft’s home-grown ones as well as web pages.

Internet Explorer: In Windows 8.1, IE will support unlimited tabs. Additionally, your open tabs will sync across devices, and you can also create live tiles out of websites, as long as the developer has included support for them.

Active Lock Screen: Now, the lock screen has an intelligent slide show that can do things like display photos from exactly a year ago. You can also take a Skyp call without unlocking your device.

App syncing across devices: When you are using a second Windows 8.1 device, the same apps on your first one will download onto your second one and sync. Pretty similar to what Apple does on iOS, you can also opt individual apps and devices out of syncing.

SkyDrive integration: SkyDrive will be the default for saving all documents. Also any files stored in SkyDrive can be saved for offline use.

Photo Editing: You get basic photo editing in the Photos app now

New Microsoft Apps: Windows 8.1 brings in some new Microsoft apps including Calculator, Alarm, Food & Drink, and Health & Fitness.

Apps Enhancements: You’ll get Xbox-branded apps for music, videos and games all introduce new features that bring you to the content you interact with the most.

So that’s all we know about Windows 8.1 so far. Lots of changes. Are there any other changes you’d like to see take place? Let us know in the comments below.

[via Microsoft]

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  1. Mike

    One report I read said that one in fact can get the start menu back with Windows 8.1, it just will not be enabled by default. But lots of confusion over this–guess we’ll have to see when the update issues.

  2. Gonzo

    So… since I first saw the first screenshots of Windows 8, I never really liked it. Soon after it was released, I decided to give it a chance and bought the USD 15 upgrade for my Windows 7.
    I’ve used it as my main OS all this time, but it’s just a no-go. When I heard about Windows 8.1 I didn’t get too excited, but being a free upgrade to Windows 8 owners, I thought I’d wait to see what new features were coming.
    Sorry MS, but you’re not providing anything even remotely useful, so I’m going back to Windows 7 Pro (and Debian GNU/Linux).

  3. chump2010

    Anyone else think that there is going to be a competition issue wiht Skydrive being the default save place? I can see Dropbox and a whole host of other providers having a serious problem with this…heck I have privacy concerns forget competition concerns!

  4. Bub

    I have to agree; all that the new Start button will do is take up screen space. The functionality is already there in the form of a hot corner; why do I need the visible button?

    Boot to desktop will be nice, but will save me just one click per boot; and I don’t reboot very often.

    I have no interest in Skydrive, and am not thrilled to learn that we’ll now have to turn it off if we don’t want to use it. This sounds to me like a way to get people to use up their free space and have to start paying for more.

    Overall, I can’t say that there’s much in this upgrade to thrill me.

  5. Ed

    [@Alexander Maxham]
    No guys, I should have been a little more clearer in my post, all Microsoft did was take the Windows button from the charm bar and slap it on the task bar, all THIS start button is going to do is navigate you from the desktop to the Metro UI and back, there is no start menu “per se” unless that is what the Metro UI (Start Page) is now. Unfortunately folks, the start menu that we all grew to know so well is gone forever. Microsoft has “said” they have been listening but it really looks as though they didn’t. I’ll tell you, Linux is looking better and better every day.

  6. Prema

    “All we know is that the Start button is coming back, which will just open the Start screen if the Start Menu is not added back”

    Hahaha if that’s the case, it accomplishes nothing :)

  7. Coyote

    If you ever used the start menu then comparing the start screen is idiotic. Am I the only one that always, ALWAYS, set the start menu icons to small and removed all the shortcuts? Is it to much to ask for an alphabetized listing of all my apps in a simple small list?

  8. JonE

    Hmmm; still looks like Windows 8 to me. As for the Start Menu; I read two other articles concerning Windows 8: and,; the more definitive one being by Ed Bott of ZDNet, and Ed Bott says, “sorry, no Start menu”.

    And from everything I’ve read it seems like Microsoft is just like a lot of online game developers (ie Zynga and others) in that they add new stuff faster than you can deal with it, which tends to cause problems in the rest of the game, but they never fix a daggum thing. That, of course, is conjecture on my part, but with Microsoft’s track record I see no reason to think otherwise.

    Guess I’ll pass on this too.

  9. Raeldin

    It is interesting that all they did was move the Windows Key from the keyboard to the left side of the bar and call it a start button. Well I am disappointed but that is Microsoft. Guess I’ll use other shells instead.

  10. Ed

    I know they are trying to satisfy everyone’s taste but they are really beating the hell out of this dead horse.
    What is the use of putting a start button on the taskbar without a start menu?
    Is this what the Metro UI (Start page) has become?
    I mean I’m gonna give it go with an open mind since I already own Windows 8 Pro (but have since uninstalled it) since 8.1 will be a free download.
    Realistically though from what I have been reading the past few days I really do not expect to be all that impressed. I’ll load it up on my laptop, if I like it it’ll stay, if not, no big deal to go back to 7, I’ll just have one more disk to throw in the never to be used again box.