Microsoft Releases Windows 8.1 Spring Update

By Pedro Hernandez

For Microsoft, this week not only marks a big break from its past but also a return to it, of sorts.

On April 8, the software giant finally pulled the plug on one of its most successful and long-lived products, Windows XP, while simultaneously releasing the Windows 8.1 Update to the general public. The new code is being gradually rolled out to customers via Windows Update. (MSDN subscribers were granted access to the update on April 2 during the Build conference.)

The update to Windows 8.1 includes—or restores, some would argue—features that make using the touch-enabled operating system more intuitive for keyboard and mouse users. As a result, users who transition from Windows XP to the latest version of 8.1 should find it easier to navigate the OS.

And Microsoft has reason to get Windows XP users to upgrade, apart from an expected spike in malware that the company warns will put users of the unsupported platform and their data at risk. The 12-year-old OS accounts for more than 27 percent of the desktop OS market, according to Internet analytics firm New Applications. Windows 8.x has only managed to claim 11 percent of the market, while Windows 7 rides high at nearly 48 percent.

A return to Windows' tried-and-true past may help the company draw XP holdouts to its latest OS.

"If you're using a mouse, for example, Windows 8.1 Update has more familiar mouse controls that show up to make it faster for you to get around," said the company in a statement. "When you open up an app, if Windows detects that you're using a mouse, it'll show you a title bar with familiar-looking minimize and close buttons."

Microsoft included perks for users who prefer the traditional Windows desktop. All apps, both Windows Store and desktop apps, now appear in the taskbar. Additionally, the taskbar is no longer anchored to the desktop view.

"When you're using a mouse, you can also point to the bottom edge of the screen to bring up the taskbar from wherever you are in your PC—from within an app like Mail or the Windows Store, from the Apps view, or from the Start screen," said the company in a blog post explaining the changes.

On the business front, Windows 8.1 Update includes Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer 11 (IE11). The feature enables administrators to force IE11 into an IE8 compatibility mode when it encounters internal legacy Web apps, allowing them to render and work properly.

Another business-friendly addition is support for Enterprise Sideloading. The capability allows organizations to bypass the Windows Store, adding flexibility to their app deployment processes. Windows 8.1 Update also features expanded MDM support, including the ability to whitelist or blacklist apps and Websites.

This article was originally published on 2014-04-09