Windows 8.1 Update Hands-On: Terrific Tweaks For The Mouse Faithful

Windows 8.1 Update Hands On: Terrific Tweaks For the Mouse Faithful

Windows 8.1 did a whole bunch to make Windows 8 feel more homey by tweaking tiny fit and finish issues. And it worked great. The next Windows 8.1 update (creatively called "Windows 8.1 Update") is pretty much the same thing all over again, but this time with mouse-users specifically in mind. And after trying it out we can say that once again, little tweaks really add up.

What's new?

When you boot up an updated Windows 8.1 machine, you're not going to be assaulted by the new changes. In fact, depending on what kind of device you're using you might not see any changes by default. That's because the biggest trick up the new Windows 8.1 update's sleeve is figuring out what kind of device you're using and adjusting accordingly. On a tablet? Not much has changed. On a laptop? A lot more.

Take Modern-style apps for instance. To the average multitasking desktop user, full-screen apps can feel a little out of place. Mono-tasking is more at home on a tiny phone screen than a giant monitor. Microsoft isn't backing down on its full-screen push, but updated Windows 8.1 does squeeze apps into a shape that resembles something more comfortably and familiarly window-ish.

Windows 8.1 Update Hands On: Terrific Tweaks For the Mouse Faithful

Open up a Modern-style app on a machine with a traditional pointing device attached, and you'll be greeted by a friendly little title bar with options to close or minimize (but not resize). It autohides after a second, but slide your cursor all the way up to the top of the screen and it will pop back out again. A minor detail, but one that reminds you Oh right, this is basically just a full-screen window. And that's not just a crutch for new or unfamiliar users; I've been using Windows 8.1 off and on for months and still found it almost strangely comforting.

Windows 8.1 Update Hands On: Terrific Tweaks For the Mouse Faithful

Likewise, if you throw your cursor down to the bottom of the screen, you'll be see your friendly little desktop taskbar, just as though it was set to autohide and you were looking at a regular program in a fullscreen window. Because, again, you pretty much are.

The taskbar has a few new tricks as well. Apps from the Windows app store can now be pinned there, where you can launch them without a detour to the start screen, and recently used Modern apps that are still open show up there as well. Just like you'd expect a normal, windowed desktop application to. The lines between the two are thinner than ever.

Elsewhere are tweaks that are even more subtle. Cursor gestures now have a merciful little delay. Throwing your pointer to the upper left corner of the screen no longer immediately brings up a preview of the previous app, instantly covering up whatever is you might actually be reaching for. Instead there's a now tiny delay before the image appears, but no delay before you can click to get down to business; Windows is taking the time to make sure you really want to see the preview before it shows.

Windows 8.1 Update Hands On: Terrific Tweaks For the Mouse Faithful

The change is slight, but the effect is big. Folks who are up there by accident aren't instantly accosted with something they don't understand, and users who know what they're doing don't get slowed down. I never use the hot-corners, and with the delay, I don't get startled by the random pop-up the way I used to.

And the most subtle -- and probably best -- improvements are on the Start screen.

Windows 8.1 Update Hands On: Terrific Tweaks For the Mouse Faithful

You'll notice there's now a power and search button on the Start screen up in the top right, to help ease the nerves of people who never got the hang of just typing to initiate search, or swiping open the charms bar to find power options, two of Windows 8's lingering weirdnesses.

But maybe best of all is that when you right click a Live Tile with your mouse, it no longer opens a touch-centric menu of options. Instead, you get the good old, mouse friendly right-click menu. You know, because you're using a mouse. And like Windows 8.1's most under-rated feature , this tiny tiny little change does the same. It's OK; it's really just another part of the desktop. It looks a little strange but the same rules apply. At least, they do now. The touch and non-touch sides of Windows are more cohesive than ever.

And the cherry on top? It is (almost) all customisable. The title bars for Modern apps, the constantly accessible task bar, the hot-corner preview delays, all of these are toggle-able if you are really, really specific about how your machine works. But each setting will come switched on (or off) depending on the type of machine you're running, so laptop users who don't want to dive into settings will get these new tweaks automatically. Meanwhile, (crazy?) people using full Windows tablets won't be hampered by mouse-centric changes, because they will be off by default or just won't ever trigger because there's no cursor poking around.

Oh, and the Start Menu is coming back ! It's coming in an update in the future, though Microsoft hasn't said when it will be, and it wasn't in the build of 8.1 Update we got to look at.

Windows 8.1 Update Hands On: Terrific Tweaks For the Mouse Faithful

More polished than ever

With the Windows 8.1 Update, Microsoft balances the needs of its old-school desktop devotees, tablet users, and folks who already learned Windows 8's now antiquated quirks more deftly than ever. With top bars and free access to the task bar, Modern-style apps are more friendly than ever to people who don't know the (bizarrely esoteric) difference between an app and an application. But at the same time, none of the touch-friendliness of Windows 8 is gone or even diminished. In a way, it's almost the perfect update; it offers you some comfortable familiarity but in a completely non-intrusive way, all while changing nothing for the worse.

The bummer is that it took so long to get here, and that "Windows 8" has become practically a dirty word in the process. It's a reputation it doesn't deserve (anymore). First with Windows 8.1 and further with this update, virtually all of Windows 8's initial weirdness -- like the hazard of getting lost/trapped in Metro -- is gone, replaced by the tiny but intuitive tricks it should have had from the start. Better late than never.

The update will start rolling out automatically to Windows 8.1 users on April 8th. Vanilla Windows 8 users can find it in the Windows Store as part of their 8.1 update.



    Can this rubbish be turned off? I want Windows 8, not Windows 98.

      Trolling or stupid?

        Serious, I don't want a taskbar on metro, and don't want a start menu. I want direct and quick switching between metro and desktop like current windows 8.

          It said in the article that all of this is toggleable... Did you actually read it?

            Yep, and I didn't believe it for good reason. Now have Update 1. The hot corner previews are ridiculously small like they should be on desktop, on my tablet hybrid. As well as having an awful delay. Asked Windows Support how to fix it, they gave me instructions to turn the entire thing off. Useless.

        It isn't stupid to have a personal preference. I personally prefer the start bar but that doesn't mean I think someone who doesn't is stupid. So I guess the real question is are you trolling or a complete dick? Probably both.

          So I can't have a preference for no start menu and want the option to remove it, but you can want it back and forced on everyone? Quite one sided. All I said above was there better be the option to remove it.

            Dude. I was sticking up for you after that other user called you stupid. I'm not saying it's right or wrong (the feature), I was defending your right to have an opinion without being attacked for it. Sheesh.

              Ah sorry, I read it on my phone, sometimes hard to follow which post is a reply to which on mobile. Thought it was a response to my other reply above.

      It's Windows 7+Metro. There would be significantly less functionality if it were Windows 98.

      Last edited 03/04/14 1:41 pm

        But you would be able to play Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper 2 and Grim Fandango without issues!

          Oh har har har.

          That's mean, but at the same time dead right.

          Last edited 04/04/14 2:12 pm

    I've been using Win8 for two years now, pretty much exclusively, and I really can't see myself using any of these new features. Like the differences between Vista and Win7, this all seems to be driven by marketing, rather than offering any real improvement. I don't need to see or pin apps to my Taskbar, I don't need a title bar in an app to feel comfortable with it and I'm pretty sure I'd find the pause in the hot corners infuriating. Why? Because when I first installed the Dev Preview, I took the time to work out how to use it effectively and realised just how well thought out it all was and how much better it made using my PC. Wasting time with all this new stuff is only going to make sheeple feel a little better about being completely incapable of adapting to even the most minor change, when they should be made to feel like the braindead idiots they clearly are (but that, sadly, is not a commercially viable way to treat customers).

      Because when I first installed the Dev Preview, I took the time to work out how to use it effectively and realised just how well thought out it all was and how much better it made using my PC.

      And you think others didn't? I gave Windows 8 a try and found it only to be viable on a Surface device or a desktop with a touch screen.

      The interface, in it's current form, is ineffective for keyboard and mouse users with the main problem of sheer distance one sometimes has to move to invoke commands.

      Classic example, having to right click on a tile and then move the mouse all the way to the bottom of the screen. If I'm using a mouse, the menu should be next to the tile. Using the same layout for touch devices on desktops is not viable.

      It's not about people not leaning. The problem has always been the lack of thought and design on Microsoft's part for platforms other than Surface/tablets.

        Absolute rubbish. I've been using a Surface Pro 2 since they came out and I can tell you for a fact that the touch-friendly side of Windows 8 still works better with a mouse and keyboard than with fingers. It's basically no different from the desktop, except for the "classic example" you give. In other respects it's just the same. There are certainly no greater distances to cover than on the desktop. e.g. Close buttons on a window are in the very top corner on the desktop, as far away from the Start button - which is the next thing you are likely to need after you close an application - as it is possible to be so having to move your mouse for a Metro app is no worse.

        And if you're working on a desktop PC, why would you bother with the Metro stuff at all? You might use the Start Screen from time to time, because it's so freakin' good, but you're unlikely to need to right-click so it's not going to hold you up in any way. Once you're set up, you can spend your entire day on the desktop and hardly notice any difference between it and Win7.

        MS have done an absolutely brilliant job with Win8, where they have failed is in marketing it. Removing the Start button was madness and, as is the norm with everyone these days, failing to provide useful instruction on how to use it really hurt them.

          Absolute rubbish.

          The only absolute rubbish here is your behaviour. Either keep a civil tone or don't bother responding.

          Last edited 04/04/14 10:45 am

            If you want to write rubbish, expect to be called on it. Instead of changing the subject, how about a well considered rebuttal with examples?

              Transference does not work on me. I have not written any rubbish. I have provided well considered rebuttles while you brand anything counter to your own views as rubbish.

              My comment still stands. Keep a civil tone or don't bother responding. My responses (as well as that of others) have been founded in objective fact and no amount of transposition will change it.

              how about a well considered rebuttal with examples?

              I have provied well considered examples on both this thread and numerous others.

              It is not the case of my not providing examples, you are simply branding any response (not just my own) that runs counter to your own as rubbish.

              Last edited 06/04/14 11:52 am

        If distance is an issue then increase the acceleration settings on your mouse so smaller hand movements move the mouse further.

          Why should the mouse movement speed be change for one flawed element of Windows when the speed works fine for the rest of the environment?

          That I did consider but dropped because it was only practical for the Start Screen and made the rest of the environment impractical in the process.

        My main device is an i7 ultrabook convertible I plug into a KB/Mouse and 27" monitor daily for use on the desktop. There is no issue with "distance" to invoke commands at all, turn the speed of your mouse up. It's the first thing I've done on any computer I've ever had! If a wrist flick can't move from one side of the screen to the other, the mouse is too slow.

    My main concern with Windows 8.1 is the lack of fastboot (a communication tool used in the modifying of android device devices) compatibility, so I'm sitting back on Windows 8 for that reason alone.

      I use 8.1 and my PC boots in under ten seconds...

        I wasn't talking about the boot time. I explained pretty clearly what fastboot is in my original post (perhaps you just stopped reading after seeing the word fastboot) but I'll clear it up for you with more detail. Adb & fastboot is/are a tool used to communicate with an Android device via a usb cable from your PC. Fastboot in particular is used to flash various things to an Android device, like a recovery, a boot.img, a ROM. Adb & fastboot enjoy full functionality on Windows 8, but there are currently no drivers available (for fastboot in particular) that are compatible with Windows 8.1. For someone who is heavily into modifying Android devices, not having fastboot functionality is a deal breaker. That's why I'm sticking back on the previous version.

        Last edited 03/04/14 11:14 pm

          I use Windows 8.1 and have fastboot working perfectly with my Nexus 4 and Nexus 5. I had to manually install the device drivers via Device Manager, but it still works perfectly.

          Google is your friend.

    If the Xbone debacle is anything to go by, there is no way to repair the damage to Windows 8. Move onto Windows 9 and leave all the baggage behind.

      It sure worked with Windows 7 - fix nothing, change the look a little bit and all is forgiven.

        As someone who saw Windows 7 run faster in a Virtual Machine than a host/native installation of Vista, I can safely say they fixed a lot.

        The task mat was also a significant enhancement and it was simple changes such as allowing one to pin currently working documents to the Word icon, etc.

        A lot was fixed. Windows 7 was not just a tweaked reskin of Vista. It was a massive undertaking for a service pack and put Windows back as a viable OS instead of that tranwreak that was Vista.

          I did have to fix a friends Vista computer recently. Re-imaged it back to Vista, was an absolute dogs breakfast, but as service packs were applied it significantly sped up to the point I felt they'd almost improved vista to W7 level.

    As long as it rolls out to Server 2012 as well. It never made any damn sense to have a server OS with a touch-centric interface. I don't know what they were smoking that day.

      I love 2012r2 simply because there is a button to click to open up the start menu.

      I use RCDMan heaps at work so can't just flick the mouse into the absolute bottom left to open start.

    Windows is based on the premise of using a mouse; therefore, aside from few exceptions, to be a Windows user is to be mouse faithful.

    Nice to see the changes, pity MS removed the Surface Dock from sale (well never did go on sale here). MS has stuck it up us in regards to Surface.

    Clicking the printer icon with the mouse still doesn't make it print and the setting to make windows 8.1 boot directly into desktop is still hidden. Double clicking on a photo brings the photo up, but you can not adjust that photo left or right, and you cannot click to go to next photo, or back one photo either. There is a setting to make it work somewhere but of course it's hidden and I'll be forced to find out on the web how to do it. Real intuitive.

    For an operating system that has always had the same format and style for 2+ decades, introducing a new UI was always going to be badly recieved, and making it out to be "fun" and more "freindly" was always going to be a flop for an eco system that is primarily used for work.
    A clear cut distinction or even split should have been made from windows... much like microsofts biggest mistake in junking courier which would have been the revolution that tablets actually needed. But that was Ballimers biggest failing.. no vision.. windows mindset.

    If I wanted my PC to look and function like a tablet I would buy one. I think my next OS upgrade might be Linux, which I understand has come a long way

    Windows 8, after being forced to use it exclusively for 1 week.......


    I'm a convert, for sure. All you haters who say they tried for a couple hrs, you need to commit to this. Those who made the change from Windows to iOS I'm guessing find it easier. Great UI but only after 8.1. This update looks ok, but i really wanted more customisation on start tiles. Seriously, why is that locked down?

      Glad you like it. I think you'll find a lot of the hate is coming from an emotional place and not a logical one.

        Yes, probably after the disappointment from when Vista came out Win7 was the comeback and people loved it... Now that another OS is replacing it, they somehow believe (this is an argument that I hear quite a lot) that Win8 is following the pattern of previous Windows OS's replacing Win7 like Vista replaced XP

    ill be honest I never really use the new metro interface. All did I ever really use the old windows 7 style start menu. Im not really into apps on the laptop and desktop experience. I mainly use desktop programs and I pin the ones I use the most to taskbar (pretty easy i know). if i need to run a program I move my mouse to the bottom right hand corner click the search button and start typing the name of the program or feature I want and presto there it is. Windows 8 search ability is so fast and responsive compared to any other operating system iv ever used before, it is effortless. I admit I was hater of windows 8 at first and thats because I hated change but now I love it. The advantages in speed and reliability definitely make it the best windows yet. its no vista that is for sure!

    TROLL.... Chill guys, it says clearly you can switch it on or off. If you prefer to use touch friendly with a mouse then go for it. But for those that do NOT like using a mouse to navigate the touch friendly version (including me), because having 3 more clicks per action and 1000km more mouse travel on average per year does take up time, the changes are welcomed. It should be happy days for everyone.

    i use a mac.. prob solved! heheee

    no, but really i do and parallels and just like any new thing there's a learning curve. yeah i though win8 was crap, but use it extensively (as i need ie10 for dynamics) and have no problem with what's being fought over in this forum...

    why do pc and win users fight against mac users and also amongst themselves?? i dun get it..???

    i am using 8.1 and have no boot issue rather its booting is perfectly fast.


    I just noticed that when I open a modern style app like Mail, the black bar at the top of the screen that is used to close the app autohides, but it just doesn't come back when I slide my cursor along the top of the screen. Please help.

      Nevermind! After a cold boot everything functioned normally.

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