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Use a mouse? Then you’ll likely love the upcoming Windows 8.1 update

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Early builds of the Windows 8.1 Update 1 software leaked online over the weekend and The Verge showed off a number of new Windows 8.1 screenshots on Sunday evening. The visual changes make it clear that Microsoft(s msft) is working to further blend the traditional mouse and keyboard Desktop environment with the tiled, touch-friendly Metro interface.

windows 81 blend

This version of the software was compiled on January 14 and it shows the running Metro applications in the Desktop taskbar, just like regular PC apps. That makes it easier to see which apps are open from the Desktop instead of having to swipe in from the left side of the screen, which is trickier to do with a mouse than with a touchscreen.

In the Metro interface, right-clicking an app with the mouse or trackpad shows options to resize it or pin it to or from the Start screen or the taskbar. The computer’s power button also appears directly on the Start screen in Metro, making it faster to access. And Metro apps now get a title bar, just like traditional Windows apps: You can minimize or snap them with a mouse click from here.

windows 81 blend metro taskbar

The changes illustrate the challenge Microsoft has faced since Windows 8 arrived. The company is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

On the one hand, Microsoft’s traditional Windows interface isn’t designed for touch devices such as tablets — hence the tiled Metro user interface and apps. On the other hand, legacy Windows users still rely on their mice or trackpads, along with keyboards, to do their work. By sticking solely with that interface, Microsoft would have no chance on tablets or other mobile devices.

Dell Venue

Until Microsoft’s Build developer event takes place in April, we won’t know for sure if the leaked build is simply a one-off for testing. I suspect it’s not, however. Blending the Desktop and Metro interfaces would reduce some of the back-and-forth that people don’t like in Windows 8.1.

I’m also expecting more blending under the hood. If Microsoft can share more code and APIs between Windows Phone, Windows RT (if it’s still going to be around), and Windows 8.1, developers can broaden their audience across Microsoft’s platforms.

6 Responses to “Use a mouse? Then you’ll likely love the upcoming Windows 8.1 update”

  1. Karl Fife

    I prefer they be damned if they don’t. Microsoft has been trying to shoe-horn a “unified interface” since the early days of Windows CE. It was a bad idea back then, and it’s a worse idea now.

    Here’s my version of the same ‘unified’ idea as it relates to vehicles: “The same pedals, wheel, controls etc (interface) whether flying a jumbo jet, a mega-container ship, a dump truck, your passenger car, bicycle, unicycle or skateboard. We call the interface… Bow-zo’s”

    Apple, the de-facto champs of user interface design realized the desktop UI has different needs than a space-constrained touch-UI. Instead of solving problems that nobody has, instead focus on the needs of the business that you’re in. There’s nothing wrong with innovating, but there’s also no need to destroy what’s already working.

  2. I think MS should give up it “universal experience” (where the mobile and desktop devices work exactly the same). The public has shown quite clearly that we are perfectly okay with one experience at a desk and another one on the go – so long as they both do the tasks required. Apple has capitalized on this reality, and to a lesser extent so has Google.

    Microsoft has tried for the past two decades to make mobile computing match the desktop. The difference between their 1998 attempts and the 2014 attempts is that in 1998 they tried making the desktop mobile (which failed miserably – Blackberry still ruled mobile) and in 2014 they are trying to make the handheld/tablet into a desktop (also failing miserably). Stop it already. Nobody cares about that!

    Make one device that excels at desktop tasks (like hard-core gaming, heavy numbers crunching, AutoCAD or other computer simulations) and another device that excels at mobile (mapping, email, mainstream games, IM, Facebook), THEN harmonize them – allow for EASY synchronization between the two. Simple really.. Apple does it. Google does it – why can’t Microsoft?

  3. Marius Telemacher

    About bloody time.

    It’s one thing to tell Apple users to ditch their mouse, they’re a willing audience. It’s another to tell Microsoft users that when there’s so many hardware configurations and form factors.