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Microsoft Windows

Microsoft is launching the Windows 8.1 update for its flagship operating system today.

The download seeks to address some of the criticisms leveled at the original version of Windows 8.

In particular, Windows 8.1 restores the start button and allows a computer to boot up with a traditional desktop interface.

Windows 8.1 launch comes at a critical time for Microsoft as it seeks a new boss, with PC sales experiencing a long decline.

Windows 8 sought to bridge the gap between touchscreen devices, such as tablets and smartphones, and more traditional form laptops and desktop machines. As such it had an interface built of tiles that could be tapped or swiped to open applications.

Microsoft is launching the Windows 8.1 update for its flagship operating system

Microsoft is launching the Windows 8.1 update for its flagship operating system

However, many people found the tiled interface did not work well for some of the things they were used to doing with a computer.

Windows 8.1 changes include:

  • Start button – tapping once on this brings up the tiled interface and a long press opens up system controls
  • desktop mode – lets people avoid the tiled interface entirely
  • keyboard shortcuts – removes the need to toggle between different on-screen keyboards when typing numbers and letters
  • gesture control – some applications, such as those for cooking, can now be paged through without touching a screen
  • tile sizing – the blocks on the touchscreen interface can be in one of four sizes
  • web browsing – Windows 8 machines will now display separate web pages side by side

A host of other changes, including better support for multi-tasking and improved links to Microsoft’s Xbox game console, are also in the update.

Windows 8 was created to capitalize on the growing popularity of tablets and other portable gadgets. Microsoft needs to get people using its software on these machines because sales of desktop machines are in sharp decline.

The shrinking sales are important for Microsoft because traditionally the bulk of its revenue comes from people and companies buying laptops and desktops and office software to run on them.

It is not clear that Microsoft is adjusting to the changes in the types of gadgets that people use. In July, Microsoft was wrote off $900 million following poor sales of its own-brand Surface touchscreen devices.

Servers ready to dispense Windows 8.1 are scheduled to be turned on at 07:00 New York time. The update is free to those already running Windows 8. Charges will apply if users upgrade to 8.1 from Windows 7. The update comes just over a year after the launch of Windows 8.

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