Windows 8 users, your free update along with your "start" button are ready for pickup.
This morning, Microsoft began making Windows 8.1 available for download through the Windows store. Windows 8 users will begin seeing the update in the store and can download it over the Internet.
Devices, including tablets, laptops and desktops, that run the software will be available in stores Friday, Oct. 18. A boxed version of the software will be out then, too.
The update addresses a series of gripes users have had about the software since it was first introduced about a year ago. While most of the operating system still will be centered around a "start screen" of apps or live tiles, Microsoft is bringing back the "start" button to the main, traditional desktop to help users adjust to the interface change.
The "start" button will appear in the lower, left-hand corner of the desktop and allow users to return to that home screen of apps. Users will also be able to set the machine to boot up automatically to the traditional desktop interface.
That home screen will also see some changes. Users will have more options for the size of the tiles and they will have more background and wallpaper customizations to chose from. Microsoft also improved the multitasking feature that allows users to run apps side by side. App sizes will be more flexible now and users will be able to run as many as four on the screen at the same time.
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Apps will continue to be at the front of the experience. Both the design of the Windows store and some of the core Microsoft apps have been refreshed. The revised mail app will include more sorting options and better organizational tools, the camera app will have a panorama setting and there will be new "food & drink" and "health & fitness" apps. Additionally, Bing Web search will be integrated right into the search field, so when you begin searching it will surface local and Web results.
Many new additions also make it easier to use the touch-centric operating system with a mouse and keyboard and make it simpler overall to learn how to use the software with on-screen prompts. While the changes might not convince some to adopt Windows, it will improve the experience for those who are using it.
"If you haven't bought into mixing desktop and touch interfaces, it won't convince you, at least not until Office is available in the touch environment," Ross Rubin, principal analyst for Reticle Research, told ABC News. "Those who have bought in will notice a more flexible interface and some new features."
But ultimately Rubin pointed out that Windows 8 is still a in-between point for Microsoft, something that is paralleled by the company's presence in the technology industry as it searches for a CEO to replace Steve Ballmer and plans to complete its purchase of Nokia.
As Rubin said, "Microsoft is still on a transition journey."
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