10 reasons to upgrade to Windows 8.1

Microsoft has responded to the feedback from Windows 8 with some useful upgrades in Windows 8.1.

Microsoft has had to contend with a near-constant stream of criticism since the release of Windows 8 in October of last year. Unlike some of Microsoft’s previous offerings, the underlying core of Windows 8 was sound—the OS is fast and stable—but monumental changes to the interface that favor mobile devices, a relatively steep learning curve, and features that forced desktop users to adapt to new use models soured many Windows users, many of whom have been quite vocal ever since.

With Windows 8.1, however, Microsoft has taken much of the negative feedback into consideration, retooling many parts of the OS in an attempt to appease desktop and tablet users alike. Some of the changes are subtle, others more significant.

A better Windows Store

When Windows 8 originally launched, not only was the Windows Store woefully devoid of apps, but the quality of the apps that were available left something to be desired. And the Windows Store app itself, while simple to use, didn't do a great job displaying, sorting, or organizing data. At this point, however, the Windows Store offers a wealth of useful apps and the Windows Store app included with Windows 8.1 is far superior to the original. Searching for apps is easier and listings are better organized and presented.

The Start Button returns

One of the most common complaints about Windows 8 was its lack of a Start button. If you were in desktop mode and wanted to return to the Start Screen, you had to use a keyboard shortcut, the Charms bar, or hover your mouse pointer in the lower-left corner of your screen and click on the Start Screen's preview pane. With Windows 8.1, though, Microsoft has put a proper Start button in its traditional location on the Task Bar. Clicking it brings you to a better-arranged, more customizable Start Screen.

Quicker access to all apps and programs

Navigating to the All Apps list in Windows 8 is a clunky mess. Users have to go to the Start Screen, right-click, wait for a menu to appear at the bottom of the screen, and then click the All Apps button. Navigating to the All Apps menu in Windows 8.1, however, is far easier. Simply go to the Start Screen and either swipe upwards from the bottom or click the small arrow at the lower-left. Easy peasy.

Less Start Screen clutter

With Windows 8, anytime an application is installed, some or all of its associated icons/tiles are placed right on the Start Screen, which can clutter things up in a hurry. That is no longer the case with Windows 8.1. When an application is installed on 8.1, its associated shortcuts are placed in the All Apps menu, and it's up to the end user to decide which ones get placed on the Start screen. It creates a little more work for 8.1 users to setup their own Start Screen, but ultimately the customized user experience is a better one.

Boot to desktop

No matter how much tweaking Microsoft does to the Start screen, there are always going to be users who simply can't stand it. If you want to see the Start Screen as little as possible, Windows 8.1 has you covered. The new OS gives users the ability to boot straight to the desktop. Pin your most commonly used applications to the Taskbar and you'll hardly ever need to see the Start Screen again.

Better search

Windows 8's search feature was already comprehensive and fast, but Windows 8.1's is far more user friendly. Search for a setting like "Folder Options" in Windows 8 and you'll have to complete the search, click the Settings section in the Search pane, and then click the result in the main window at the left. With Windows 8.1, though, the search results are simply presented right under the search field.

Help – it's just a click away

Another major complaint with Windows 8 was its utter lack of interactive help. With such drastic changes to the user interface, it behooved Microsoft to ease the transition from older versions of Windows and clearly explain how to navigate Windows 8. Unfortunately, Microsoft failed at that task miserably. Numerous videos were even posted online showing confused Windows 8 users struggling to figure out how to shut their systems down. Windows 8.1 has got a great Help+Tips app linked right on the Start screen by default, however, complete with crystal clear instructions, imagery, and video tutorials.

Improved multi-tasking

Windows 8 offered somewhat limited multi-tasking with modern UI apps. One app could be snapped to the side of the screen, while another consumed the rest of the screen, but the 70/30 split was hardly ideal. With Windows 8.1, apps can be snapped to either side of the screen and re-sized at will. Depending on your screen size/resolution, it's also possible to have three modern UI apps on-screen simultaneously.

Better multi-monitor and high DPI support

Though desktop PC sales as whole may be on a decline, the number of users sporting multiple monitors or high-DPI 4K displays is on the rise. Windows 8.1 is ideal for these bleeding-edge users. Not only does Windows 8.1 make it simple to setup and configure multiple displays, but it will automatically adjust text and image scaling on high-DPI displays as well.

Windows 8.1 - lean and mean

Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 are comparable in terms of their memory and storage requirements, but versus previous versions of the OS, Windows 8.1 is downright lean. Windows 8.1 makes more efficient use of system memory and CPU and GPU resources, and it consumes less storage space too. Windows 8.1 also boots, resumes, and shuts down much faster than older versions of Windows, which can save users a ton of time over the long haul.