What's New In Windows 8.1: Start Button, Search Changes, Resizable Apps

This morning, Microsoft detailed many of the new features we're going to see in Windows 8.1 later this year. Those include the much-rumoured partial return of the classic Start button, changes to the way apps can be displayed and integration of Bing into the Search charm.

One of the more interesting (and widely anticipated) developments is that, yes, the Start button is coming back...sort of, as the blog post from Microsoft detailing the changes confirms:

PCs today are evolving for a world of mobile computing where people interact with their devices through touch, and we designed Windows 8 for this. But we also recognise there are many non-touch devices in use today — especially in the commercial setting. As such we've focused on a number of improvements to ensure easier navigation for people using a mouse and keyboard.

We've improved the way you navigate to Start with the mouse by changing the Start "tip" to be the familiar Windows logo. The new tip appears anytime you move the mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen, and is always visible on the taskbar when on the desktop. There are also options to change what the corners do, and options to boot into alternate screens. For example, if you prefer to see the Apps view versus all the tiles, you can choose to have the Start screen go directly to Apps view.

Note that a Start button which launches to the Windows 8 screen is not the same as a full-blown Start menu. If you want that, you'll need to use one of the many Start menu alternatives — an option which has existed for as long as Windows 8 itself has been a commercial product.

While most of the reporting on this issue is likely to focus on the return of the Start button (Start link would be a better description), there are several other changes that are arguably more noteworthy. In particular, there's going to be a switch to the way Search works:

In Windows 8.1, the Search charm will provide global search results powered by Bing in a rich, simple-to-read, aggregated view of many content sources (the web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions you can take) to provide the best "answer" for your query. We think this will really change the way you interact with the Web and with windows making it quicker and easier to get things done. It is the modern version of the command line! Quick actions include things you would want to do like play a song or video. Results from local files, apps, and settings are easily accessed in the same convenient view by scrolling to the left.

Windows 8 search is impressively fast; we hope this switch doesn't make it slower for accessing local resources. Needing to scroll to see file results sounds like a nuisance, but we won't know for sure until we see it in action. Bing itself does a fairly ordinary job on web search, especially for Australian users, so the usefulness of the extension to web results is debatable, though it's not a surprising development.

The other major change that stands out for us is that apps can now be snapped to different sizes, rather than taking up a fixed-width column on the left or right of the screen.

Windows 8.1 brings variable, continuous size of snap views. You will have more ways to see multiple apps on the screen at the same time. You can resize apps to any size you want, share the screen between two apps, or have up to three apps on each screen if you have multiple displays connected, you can have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time and the Start Screen can stay open on one monitor. This makes multi-tasking even easier. Also in Windows 8.1, you can have multiple windows of the same app snapped together – such as two Internet Explorer windows.

For people who like to display multiple windows, this is a welcome development.

Other changes, briefly:

  • Swiping from the bottom now displays all installed apps, and newly-added apps are available in a separate group (a welcome improvement on the haphazard addition of new apps to the Start screen in Windows 8)
  • You can customise your lock screen to as a slide show.
  • You can set your Start screen background to match your desktop.
  • Files can now be saved directly to SkyDrive in Windows 8 apps.
  • The built-in Photos and Music apps are being updated.
  • IE11 will ship as part of the update — good for touch device users, but less interesting for those of us who prefer another browser.

As we already knew, Windows 8.1 will be a free update from the Windows Store, and a preview build will be released at the Build conference on 26 June. The post also confirms that new security and enterprise features for Windows 8.1 will be detailed at TechEd North America next week. We're attending that event, so we'll be sure to bring you the updates from there.

Continuing the Windows 8 Vision with Windows 8.1 [Blogging Windows]


Comments

    Does anyone use search much? I've been on Win8 for more than two years now and I don't think I've used it at all. I still use search in Windows Explorer very occasionally but it's never occurred to me to try the new one.

      You have been using Windows 8 for 2 years?

        Whoops, I was thinking 2010 when it was actually 2011. I first installed the Dev Preview in October 2011, so more than 18 months.

          Yeah sure, I use it so much on my surface pro that I find myself swiping for it (even with a mouse) on other systems and being dissapointed.

          It's good to see they're improving it - because it's just terrible currently.. And the bing app for Windows 8 currently... Is just a hd image with some points you can touch for factoids.. you still just perform your search through the charm bar like normal.. So the "app" that comes preinstalled is basically just a hd image slideshow.

          Anyway, im disappointed to have not seen more windows phone integration to be honest.. :(

            What do you expect from an app? Aren't they all about being half-arsed and largely useless?

      Searching err'day.

      Exactly the same reason I loved win7 - windows key and start typing.

    Note that a Start button which launches to the Windows 8 screen is not the same as a full-blown Start menu.

    So all they really did was add a shortcut to the windows key? That doesn't really address the problems with using the start screen with a keyboard and mouse.

      There is no problem using the start screen with a keyboard and mouse, it works just fine.

        This. Metro is just a full screen start menu....

        Except if you want to find specific applications that only appear in the start menu.

          Like what? You can type in the name of anything you want.

            Easy transfer wizard, for example.

            Sql Server Books Online.

            Neither of these 2 things came up anywhere in the start screen, yet were easily accessible once I installed Start8. Yes I searched as well, but I shouldn't have to, they were literally 3 clicks away before.

              Odd, I can't think of any reason why they wouldn't come up unless A) they aren't actually in the Start menu, or B) they're classed under Settings instead of Apps. If it's the latter, Win+W will open the Start screen in Settings mode.

                There's the problem, I get no reason as to why something doesn't work, I have no idea Win+W existed, or to be honest what it does. I know if I used the start menu I can find it.

                  The new start screen shows filtered results when you search for something, different to the old start menu that showed all results. So where on the old menu if you typed 'mine' you might get 'Minesweeper', 'Mine schematics.dwg' and maybe a setting involving the word 'mine' somehow, on the start screen by default it only shows apps (so just Minesweeper). If you want to search settings (ie. type 'display' or 'sharing' or the like) you can type it in and click the Settings filter on the right, or you can press Win+W to open the screen with the settings filter enabled by default. Ditto for file search, which is Win+F.

            Then right click it and pin it to the metroscreen if its been installed on the pc. It's not hard.

      Theres always been an area which can be accessed by the mouse if you go to the far left bottom corner, no idea why a button is needed...

        I thought that too. But now that the hot corners are customisable, this makes a little sense.

      What problems? It actually works better with a keyboard and mouse than with touch, as long as you have a scroll wheel. It is a huge improvement over Vista/Win7's next to useless Start Menu, better even than the old one. With 8.1 you'll be able to have smaller tiles so I can't see any way in which it will not then be vastly superior.

        The fact it takes up the entire screen for starters.

        The fact it doesn't show everything you can find in the start menu for seconds.

        The reliance on "hover" actions for thirds.

          The old Start Menu also takes over your whole screen so how is this any worse?

          EDIT, Sat 01 June: Thinking about it further, the Start Screen is actually batter in this respect than the Start Menu when using multiple displays, in that with the old Menu you could not keep it open while you did anything else. OTOH, you can have the Start Screen active on one monitor and still interact with applications in another.

          The Start Menu "doesn't show everything", either. In fact, it shows you far less and it makes you go looking through layers of folders for anything you haven't pinned, which is most of your installed applications. OTOH, the new Start Screen allows you to pin far more things, making it rare that you would need to go looking in "All Apps" for anything. It also makes it much easier to get to administrative tools like Disk Management than the Start Menu did.

          What "hover actions""? I have no idea what you are talking about, unless you mean the hot corners, in which case you're an idiot because they make life much easier (and WIn7 has one, too).

          Last edited 01/06/13 1:32 pm

            I pin application to the task bar. "Problem" solved. Doesn't help me find all those applications in the full screen mess that is the start screen. Hell there hasn't even been any explanation as to why it doesn't have all your applications in there.

              Clearly you don't use many applications, then. On a typical day I might use more than a dozen applications - Xara, Photoshop, After Effects, 3DS Max and Combustion for work; Orion, SoundForge, EnergyXT, Gearbox, SynthEdit for music (add in KnobMan if I am doing any UI stuff), plus all the usual stuff like IE, Zune, Calculator, Notepad, Explorer, etc. If I pinned them all to the Taskbar I'd have no room for anything else. It was so bad in Vista/Win7 that, for the first time since I started using computers, I had to resort to putting shortcuts on my desktop. Thank Dog I don't have to do that any more, thanks to the Start Screen.

                I, too, use many applications each day. Hence the need for a start menu, not a full screen page of tiles.

                Pinning 15 programs to the task bar is hardly over the top anyway. At work I pin IE, Firefox, Chrome, Outlook, Excel, Word, Powerpoint, Access, SSMS, VSWD, BIDS, Crystal Reports, Remote Desktop, Notepad++, Our ERP system, Explorer, Calculator, Process Manager, Virtual Box, as "regualr" applications, and usually keep most of them running at any one time.

                I don't expect you to understand that as you live in this strange world where anyone who can't do things the same way as you is wrong. Where if you don't get Windows 8, or don't like the start screen, you are wrong, the only opinion in the world that matters is yours.

                The truth is we all know you're a zealot for all things Microsoft. One might have suggested you were a shrill at first, but I doubt shrills would be so, trolling.

                  How do you get that from anything I've posted? What it comes down to is the inability of others to make a cohesive, logical argument. You are a classic example - you can say what but not why. interestingly, you use the magic, limiting number of the Start Menu - 15 applications. Why? 15 applications is the absolute maximum number of applications you can pin to the Start Menu. Add just one more and something will slip off the bottom of the list, no warning. As a workaround to that limitation you are happy to use the Taskbar. Dog forbid someone else should find that less than ideal, much less go to the effort to explain why.

                  What you have not done is give the slightest indication as to why you think "a full screen page of tiles" is worse than a Start Menu that you have already forsaken for the Taskbar. No, you arrogantly assume that simply stating your preference is more than enough to make your point and have us all agree with you.

                  To make it easier for you, I'll lay it out as simply as I can. When you open the Vista/Win7 Start Menu it takes over your entire screen - you cannot interact with anything else while it is open. Yet for all of that, it takes up only a tiny amount of screen space with a limited number of spots to pin applications, with a huge dean blank area if you do pin a lot of things, forcing you to delve into multiple layers of folders to find seldom used software. Older versions of the Start menu at least used fly-outs to make much better use of the available screen space. Win8 has sought to reclaim that dead, useless space to allow you far more freedom to pin as many applications and apps as you like, in groups with headings and in any order that works for you. It makes it much easier to find anything, be it something you have pinned or not. So what, exactly, is wrong with that?

                  Oh, and the word is "shill", "shrill" is an adjective to describe sound.

    As a Win 7 user, I can understand the annoyance that elements of Win8 have caused, and having trialled it, yes the metro screen was a nightmare, but the whole start menu issue? To be honest, I stopped using the Start menu as a launcher years ago. The only time I really use it is to open rarely used programs that dont deserve a desktop shortcut. All searching etc is done through explorer, and I've been using the brilliant ObjectDock launcher to keep the desktop nice and clean.
    I still dont see any real benefit for using Win8 unless you have a touchscreen monitor or a tablet.

      I recently switched over from Win7 to Win8, having held out for a long time. The metro screen does look like a nightmare at first until you learn how to use it properly. Then to be honest, being able to group things into individual areas and clusters, it's fantastic. Now, the REAL kicker for Win8 that still sucks, is the fact you cannot stretch Metro across two monitors. Only one :\

        The metro screen does look like a nightmare at first until you learn how to use it properly.

        Exactly, it looks intimidating because it's new, and it looks sort of crappy since it's clearly a tablet/mobile OS inspired feature, but it's actually really good.
        Tiles are pretty much shortcuts that take system tray notifications to the next level, and the Windows Key now acts like the "Show Desktop" button. They've essentially merged the Start menu, Screen Saver and System Tray into one neat, fairly customisable screen. It's not perfect, they still need to break down some of barriers between Apps and traditional desktop applications, but it's pretty sweet once you get used to it.

          Yep and now with 8.1 that you will be able to resize the apps and tiles, that's going to make it even better. I think MS have stumbled upon the right idea. Incremental updates for their OS like Apple do, instead of one giant OS update every few years.

          I think that's a much fairer description. The start screen is touch-inspired, not 'designed for touch' as people are always trying to say. It works perfectly well in keyboard/mouse situations.

            Having used it both ways, I actually think it works better with a keyboard and mouse. Using the scroll wheel is a lot better than swiping.

      Theres nothing bad about the start screen....

      I use Windows 8 as a desktop and the only time I use it is when I am looking for an app I don't have in the task bar..

      And like WIndows 7, hit the Windows key on my keyboard and start typing... This whole "No start button" thing is a waste of everyone's time IMHO and I hope these an option to remove it, don't want to waste taskbar space :)

        You just won my 'pro-tip' of the day award for the key+typing knowledge-bomb! Unfortunately its a big bucket of nothing but there's a telepathic hug coming your way!

          You didn't know about that one? It's a big one =)

          Since you'll encounter it before long, if you want to search for settings, rather than apps, hit Win+W instead of just the Win key, and it will come up with Settings already highlighted on the right and will search settings only. Ditto for Win+F and the Files search.

          Oh for real? Glad to have helped,
          This is the only issue with Windows 8, people are just not 100% sure how to get around as its very different,

          For your reference in future nice little 2 pager document if you want something to reference. Save it to your SkyDrive and its always with you ;)
          http://sdrv.ms/Zxc3rv (Select Download in the top, the PDF files sometimes come in abit of a blur in the online viewer)

            Thanks for that doc. I knew a lot of them already, but there were a few handy ones on there I didn't know about. Also useful to pass on to "less knowledgeable" persons.... :)

    Do you need a Microsoft Account to get free apps from the Windows Store?

      Just a hotmail one will do

        Thanks. Looks like I'll be needing one of those eventually.

          As always, you can actually use any address with this, not just hotmail. I use my gmail as my primary sign in for my Surface Pro for example, which also gives me the market, etc etc..

    Damn kids today don't know what they're complaining about. When I was a lad, we didn't even HAVE a start menu! It was program manager or DOS, and I didn't hear anyone else complaining about it. And when we did get the start menu, search was two clicks away, not one like today's Windows. Get off my lawn!

    The lock screen slideshow is a welcome addition, as is "proper" start screen backgrounds, which may make Stardock's Decor8 app a little less useful than before.

    I have a Windows 7 desktop PC with two non-touch monitors.
    Will I be now be able to boot straight to a desktop environment without those
    silly tiles on the screen?
    Until this happens I intend to remain with Windows 7.

      And everyone else intends to not care how bad you are at dealing with change. So we're all doing something we like. How good for us.

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