If you’ve been running Windows 8, you’ve probably upgraded to Windows 8.1. This, strangely, required that you go to the Microsoft App Store to download and install the free upgrade. Newer notebooks, like my new one ( My New Windows 8.1 Notebook Computer ) come with Windows 8.1 already installed.
Microsoft still supports Windows 8, if you haven’t upgraded to Windows 8.1, at least for now. They have not required that Windows 8 users upgrade to Windows 8.1.
However, if you’ve upgraded to Windows 8.1, there is now an urgent deadline. Just like the cutoff of support for Windows XP, Microsoft has done virtually the same thing for Windows 8.1.
If you are running Win8.1, you have to download and install the huge update called "Windows 8.1 Update."
It’s not optional. In order to get the new security fixes and bug fixes for Windows 8.1, as of the May 2014 "Patch Day" (the second Tuesday of the month), you have to be running Windows 8.1 Update.
It is available by running the usual Microsoft Updates program. If you have Microsoft Updates set to automqatic, it should show up automatically.
If you manually run Windows Update, you may have to run it a number of times to get all the pre-requisite updates — this isn’t a Service Pack, which normally includes a roll-up of patches to date.
Windows 8.1 Update may take a long time to download, depending on your connection. If you’re running a 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 (most computers are!), this update is almost 900MB. It’s much smaller if you’re running the 32-bit version of Widows 8.1.
So, why should you do the Window’s 8.1 Update?
Number 1 — Security. If you don’t, you’ve blocked from all new patches and updates.
Number 2 — Enhancements. If you’re using a mouse instead of a touchscreen, Windows 8.1 Update is made to be more mouse-friendly than Windows 8 or Windows 8.1. That’s true in both the Desktop mode (which I prefer) and the Tiled mode (which you can’t avoid).
Number 3 — Updates. If you don’t get Windows 8.1 Update, your Windows 8.1 system won’t get future security fixes, enhancements, and bug fixes.
The most significant change, for those without a touchscreen, is that Windows 8.1 Update will boot directly into the Desktop, not the Tiled Interface. Much better. You can set Windows to boot directly to the Desktop, rather than the default Tiled interface.
Once called the Metro interface, then the Modern interface, Microsoft’s current term is the "Start screen". I like "Tiled interface," as it’s more definitive.
One new feature that will get a lot of use is a mouse-enabled display of the Charms bar on the right-hand side of the screen. Hover the mouse in the top right-hand corner, and you’ll see a temporary, transparent display of the Charms Bar on top of the corresponding section of the Desktop. The Charms bar has the items — Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings.
The update added a Power button and a Search button to the Tiled interface.
The Power button will save some steps, unless you’re in Desktop mode. For that, the easy fix is to create a Shutdown icon and a Restart icon. Instructions for Windows 7 are in my article Creating Shutdown and Reboot Icons in Windows 7 — and the Windows 8/8.1 process is the same.
The Search button, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have much value. After all, if you’re on the Start/Tiled interface, just start typing. That automatically starts the smart-Search function.
The Task bar is now displayed in the Tiled interface, if you hover at the bottom of the screen. If you use a mouse to start an app, some apps will display a minimize button and a close button on their top line. For others, you have to move to the top of the screen and hover or click.
If you’re in Desktop mode, the left-most item in the Task bar is not the classic Start menu. It’s a windows-looking button that takes you to the newly named Start screen (formerly the Metro interface and then called the Modern interface). Although we have to be able to get there, I’d really prefer a classic Windows Start Menu.
I know I can get any of a number of add-on Start menus, like Stardock’s Start8, but I’m trying to work with Windows 8.1 as it was intended to be used — at least for a while. Start8 looks to be my choice for an add-on Start menu. I first used their products back in my old Apple //gs days.
The other significant user-interface change is the return of the right-click option menu. That now works on the tiles on the Start screen’s (Tile interface’s) tiles.
But, whether you want the new enhancements or not, remember that the Windows 8.1 Update is a mandatory update if you’re using Windows 8.1.
Until you do it, you won’t be able to get any new updates.