The new features you need to know about in Windows 8.1

Microsoft's update to its Windows operating system delivers a handful of new features. These tips and tricks will help you get started.

Windows 8 received mixed reviews when it was released last October. Critics blasted Microsoft for its dramatically redesigned user interface and removing the famous Start button. Concerns were eased when the company promised improvements in the next iteration of the operating system, now known as Windows 8.1.

The latest version of Windows is slated to arrive as a free update for Windows 8 users later this week.

Here are a few tips to get you started with Windows 8.1:

Booting to desktop
You can now bypass Microsoft's tiled Start screen and boot directly to the desktop . To do this, click on the Desktop tile, right-click anywhere on the Windows 8.1 taskbar, select Properties, and click on the Navigation tab. Next, check the box labeled "Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in," which can be found under the Start screen options.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

Default apps
Internet Explorer received many improvements with its most recent update , but not everyone prefers to use Microsoft's Web browser. Windows 8.1 now allows users to set default apps for things like the Web browser, e-mail client, music player, video player, photo viewer, calendar provider, and map address.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

This can be done by going to the Charms menu, which can be accessed by clicking the lower right-hand corner of the screen or hitting the Windows and C button at the same time, and going to Settings. Next, select Change PC Options, click on Search & Apps, and choose the Defaults option.

Start button
It's true, Windows 8.1 returns the Start button to the desktop, but it isn't the same button we have all come to know and love. Clicking the button will bring you back to your last menu, while a right-click will reveal more traditional options. From here you can easily restart or power down the computer , access things like your programs, system settings, and Device Manager, along with the Task Manager, Control Panel, File Explorer, and Search and Run functions.

This menu can also be accessed with a long press for computers with touch screens.

Organizing the home screen
Users previously only had two options when it came to the size of Live Tiles in Windows 8: large or small. This is no longer the case, though. A right-click, or long press, on a specific tile will give you the ability to unpin it from the screen, uninstall the program, resize it, or turn the Live Tile off. Clicking the "Resize" option will allow you to alter the icon's size to large, wide, medium, or small.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

Windows 8.1 also gives users the option to organize apps into various groups. Live Tiles can be dragged and dropped as you please, while a right-click will give you the opportunity to name specific app groups.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

Not every app is displayed in the Start screen. A complete list of installed apps can be accessed by either clicking the down arrow in the lower left-hand side of the screen, or by performing a swipe down on a touch screen. Selecting the up arrow or a swipe upward will bring you back to the home screen.

Hot Corners
Microsoft introduced Hot Corners last year with the release of Windows 8. Each corner of the screen has a different function; the Charms menu is in the lower and upper right, the back button is in the lower left, and the running apps window is in the upper right.

Users were previously forced to look to third-party alternatives to disable this feature. In Windows 8.1, however, Microsoft built the option to disable these corners directly into the operating system.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

Enter Settings in the Charms menu and select the "Change PC settings" option. Next, click on PC & Devices and select Corners & Edges.

I recommend disabling this feature if you are looking to work primarily in desktop mode.

App updates
A long overdue addition to Windows 8.1 is the ability for apps to automatically update. This feature is enabled by default, but if you would like to disable it, simply enter the Store, go to the Charms menu, click on Settings, and select App updates.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET
Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

Wallpaper and slideshows
Microsoft added even more customization options in Windows 8.1. You can now set the same background for both your desktop and Start home screens.

Go to the Charms menu, click on Settings, and select Personalize. Here you can change the background design and color; you will notice one of the options is the background you have on your desktop.

Another cool feature is the ability to create a slideshow that will play on your computer's lock screen.

This can be done by going to the Charms menu, selecting Settings, and clicking on the "Change PC settings" option. Next, open PC & Devices and toggle the slideshow switch from off to on.

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Tech Culture
About the author

Dan Graziano is an associate editor for CNET How To. His work has appeared on BGR, Fox News, Fox Business, and Yahoo News, among other publications. When he isn't tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos, he can be found enjoying the sights and sounds of New York City.

 

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