Next Tuesday, April 8, Microsoft will make good on the first phase of its promise to dramatically improve Windows 8 -- specifically, making it far more friendly to desktop mouse and keyboard users, as well as accommodating users' preferences for the older Windows 7 interface conventions.
While there are some cool things coming for people dissatisfied with Windows 8, they come in an update that seems, in typical Microsoft style, almost deliberately confusing. After all, it was only a few months ago that Microsoft released the Windows 8.1 update. That was a patch that restored the Start button (but not the Start Menu), the ability to configure Windows to boot to the Desktop, improved search, and a bevy of other improvements. Tuesday's release is called -- brace for it -- the Windows 8.1 Update. Notice the way that Microsoft made the word "update" part of the name? And capitalized it? Clearly, new CEO Satya Nadella hasn't solved the company's decades-old naming affliction.
That said, what's under the hood should make many users happy. First and foremost: Windows 8 will now detect if you have a touchscreen. If you do, it boots to the Start screen, If not -- and this is the case for most desktops and laptops -- it automatically boots to the desktop.
There's now more interactivity between the desktop and modern interface. Modern apps can be pinned to the taskbar, which means you can easily access them from the desktop.
Apps are also more mouse-friendly. If you have a mouse and keyboard installed, Windows adds a control bar to the top of modern apps, so you can close, minimize and split apps without using the new modern gestures which were designed for touch and many users found clumsy (or undiscoverable) with a mouse.
The Start screen also has its own highly exposed power button, which means you can shut your computer down with a single click.
Here's some more good news: This update is just the tip of the iceberg. When Microsoft unveiled news of the 8.1 Update this week, it also revealed that in an upcoming update to Windows 8 -- release date unknown -- the complete Start Menu would return. The Start Menu will allow users to launch apps from the desktop, just like in older versions of Windows, with the addition of an intriguing looking set of tiles bolted onto the side.
This future update will also add the task bar -- a standard part of the desktop for 20 years -- to the modern interface, so it's available everywhere in Windows. And when you consider that modern apps will also be able to run in a window on the desktop, these changes will give Windows 8's dual interfaces the kind of uniformity and consistency it should have had from the outset.
While Windows 8.1 was pushed to users via the Windows Store service, this update will be available as a Windows Update on Tuesday.
Photo courtesy Microsoft