Engadget - The last time we wrote about Windows 8.1, we had lots to talk about, but very little to share in the way of hands-on impressions. You see, though Microsoft unveiled loads of new features, apps and UI tweaks, it only released a handful of screenshots -- and nobody outside the company was permitted to actually use the new software. Today, though, the OS update is available for anyone to download for free; in fact, because we're oh-so special, we've playing around with it for about 15 hours already. So while that's not enough time to put together a comprehensive review, we feel qualified to offer a few early thoughts. If you're curious, you can meet us after the break for impressions on everything from the new panorama capture feature to Xbox Radio. And yes, we brought screenshots this time. Lots of 'em.
First things first: a disclosure. Because we started testing Windows 8.1 before it was actually available in the Windows Store, we had to borrow a Surface Pro from Microsoft with the software installed, similar to the way we routinely call in loans on review units. By the time you're reading this, though, the preview will be live in the Windows Store; all you'll have to do is hit download and let your system take care of the rest. As it happens, we expect it will be very hard to miss the download prompt in the store: Microsoft intends to add a "Windows 8.1 Preview is here" note even on individual app download pages. So even if it's the Vevo app you're after, you might still see a prompt to update the OS. Oh, and this might be a good time to give you a heads-up about apps: not all of them will run properly on Windows 8.1, at least not in the beginning. Microsoft says that's simply a function of the operating system still being in its preview phase. Ultimately, company reps say, the goal is for every app to run properly on 8.1, no exceptions.
Return of the Start button
Yes, as you may have heard, the Start button is back in Windows 8.1, insofar as there's now a Start icon fixed to the lower-left corner of the screen. (You can't disable it.) Click on it, though, and you'll still get the modern Start Screen, not the old-school fly-out menus. If you ask us, then, it's a little hyperbolic to call this a step backward, though it sure does make the OS feel a little more familiar.
If you really want to relive the old days of Windows, though, you'll need to make a few additional settings tweaks yet. For starters, you'll want to enable boot-to-desktop, by right-clicking on the Taskbar, and then clicking "Properties." Stay in that same menu, and you can opt to have the same wallpaper for both the desktop and Start Screen. And really, you should try this out, not that it's our place to tell you what to do. It's the sort of feature that should have been an option in Windows 8 to begin with. But as simple as it is, it's an important change too. Having a consistent wallpaper lends the OS a more cohesive feel, and makes the jump between the desktop and Start Screen feel much less disorienting. And that's a very good thing indeed. More