Microsoft has released a preview edition of its free Windows 8.1 update and the first thing you notice is that the start button will not work in the same way as Windows 7. Instead, users will be able to load a full-screen Metro-style start screen, as opposed to a smaller tray of applications and folders and set the OS to boot the desktop, instead of the new Metro screen.
Users will also be able to set the background to be the same on the start screen as the desktop, as well as manipulate live tiles from half size to full size. New effects for the lock screen are also available. You can get access to the download HERE.
A slideshow can be set to run when the system is locked, showing images from the local storage and a SkyDrive account, selecting photographs taken at around the same time of year. Device cameras can be used while the system is locked. Skype calls also able to be answered in this mode.
Electronista says the option to snap an application to one part of the screen returns with more options. The previous split can now be adjusted, allowing a few more window ratios to be used. This now allows for multiple monitors, letting two applications be displayed on one screen, with another pair shown on a second.
The Search charm has been updated to show more usable results, including individual settings alongside file and app results. Web results are also added, with some media-based results viewable or playable within Search itself.
The new Windows Store is a major visible upgrade, with a more flattened design that shows new app charts and per-app details. Microsoft has also included app recommendations, offering suggestions for other apps alongside currently selected ones. The new Reading List app stores sites for later viewing, the Camera app adds panoramic photography, Xbox Music gets its previously reported facelift and both Sound Recorder and Calculator make a reappearance with Metro stylings.
Microsoft recommends that "only experienced PC users download Windows 8.1 Preview or Windows RT 8.1 Preview". Users of Windows RT will not be able to restore their software if they want to change back and will have to wait for the final version to be released, Windows 8 can use PC Refresh to remove the preview, which may delete some installed apps in the process, while earlier versions will be forced to perform a full reinstall of their operating system if they wish to return to their previous OS.
Julie Larson-Green, the head of Microsoft's Windows division, said the update, rapid by Microsoft standards, "shows how much more responsive our engineering has become".
Many of the new features have been shown already. A three-day Build conference, held recently in San Francisco, gives Microsoft developers a chance to learn more about the new system and try it out. It also will give the company a chance to explain some of the reasoning behind the update and sell developers on Microsoft's ambitions to regain relevance lost to Apple's iPad and various devices running Google's Android software.
Windows 8, released Oct. 26, was meant to be Microsoft's answer to changing customer behaviors and the rise of tablet computers. The operating system emphasizes touch controls over the mouse and the keyboard - the main ways people have interacted with their personal computers since the 1980s.
Microsoft and PC makers had been looking to Windows 8 to revive sales of personal computers, but some people have been put off by the radical makeover. Research firm IDC says the operating system actually slowed down the market. Although Microsoft says it has sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licences so far, IDC says worldwide shipments of personal computers fell 14 percent in the first three months of this year, the worst since tracking began in 1994.