Windows 8.1 update coming in spring, to improve controls, allow lower end hardware

Microsoft is hoping to address some of the big issues with Windows 8 and improve the customer experience.

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore kicks off the company's event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Shara Tibken/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--Microsoft plans to provide an update to Windows 8.1 that it hopes will address the concerns that early adopters have expressed with the operating system.

The update will improve the non-touch user interface controls, expand the options for hardware makers to create more affordable devices, and include compatibility for use in schools and large business.

The update will come in spring, according to Joe Belfiore, vice president of operating systems for Microsoft.

Windows 8 originally focused on pushing touch screen as a primary method of control. But people used to the typical mouse and keyboard control were frustrated with the different experience. Microsoft is hoping to address that.

"We could see where things were going great, and we could see where could improve things," Belfiore said during a press conference at Mobile World Congress on Sunday.

The update includes a new mouse user interface, including the use of right click for Start and to close apps. Microsoft is also adding search, power, and settings icons on the Start screen. It will also be easier to launch and switch between apps through the task bar.

Belfiore was quick to point out that the update didn't signify a shift away from its touch-screen push.

"We love touch," he said. "None of the work has a negative effect on touch."

In addition, Microsoft is loosening the hardware restrictions to allow manufacturers to create less expensive hardware, allowing them to make more affordable Windows 8 devices. The new lower limit of 1GB of ram and 16GB of storage will allow for a new wave of devices, Belfiore said.

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Such a change will help Microsoft fend off competition from lower-priced Chromebooks using Google's Chrome OS, which has been steadily gaining share partly due to the lower price of the products.

Finally, the update will include compatibility for apps like Internet Explorer that will help it get into schools and big businesses.

Microsoft also unveiled some updated numbers on the progress of Windows 8. Belfiore said 200 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold, with Windows 8.1 being the fastest upgrade, or four times faster than the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8. The company also boasted that the market share for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 exceeds the combined share of computers running any version of Apple's OS X.

Lastly, Belfiore said that its Windows store now sees more than 4 million app downloads a day.