Windows 8.1 Update 1: Modern Mouse Improvements

Windows 8.1 Update 1: Modern Mouse Improvements

Some nice concessions to traditional PC users

One of the big complaints about Windows 8 is that the Modern mobile environment is unsuitable for traditional, non-touch PCs. So in Windows 8.1, Microsoft made some changes to appease traditional PC users, making it easier to ignore the Modern environment. But in Windows 8.1 Update 1, the firm is taking the next logical step by making it easier for traditional PC users to navigate Modern experiences with the mouse.

This is a non-subtle change to Windows and an important evolution, I think. Windows 8 was hostile to its entire audience by forcing tablet users to deal with the desktop regularly and by forcing traditional PC users to deal with the Modern environment regularly. Windows 8.1 appeased both user groups by letting them stick to their preferred environment—Modern for tablet/hybrid PC users and desktop for traditional PC users—but it did nothing to bridge the gap between Modern and desktop and make that transition less jarring.

We know that Windows 9 (codenamed "Threshold") will add the ability to run Modern apps in floating windows on the desktop, arguably the key functional change needed to make these new apps acceptable to most of the world's 1.5 billion traditional PC users. But in Windows 8.1 Update 1, we see the first steps towards that integrated future via a series of small but important changes that make the Modern environment more familiar and usable to those of us with non-touch, traditional PCs.

What's most interesting about these features is that most of them are dynamic. That is, if you're using a multi-touch based PC or device with your hands, you'll get the existing touch-based interfaces found in Windows 8.1. But if you are interacting with Modern experiences on a traditional PC with a mouse, you'll see some new and more familiar interfaces instead.

Modern app title bar

When you mouse to the top of an Modern app in Update 1, a new title bar will appear, similar to the title bar you see in desktop applications, though it's normally hidden.

This title bar has several interesting elements. The name of the app appears in the center, and Minimize and Close window buttons appear on the right, just as you see in desktop windows. (In the current leaked build, the Minimize window button doesn't always appear for some reason; I assume this is just a bug.)

There's also a Menu button in the far left of the title bar. This works similarly to the legacy Control Menu button that appeared in windows from older Windows versions (and is in fact still there, but hidden, in modern Windows versions.) When you click this button, you get a menu of choices that includes Close, Minimize, Split Left and Split Right.

That word "Split" is notable because this feature has been called Snap in the past. Snap, of course, is the same name as a similar desktop feature, so it's possible that Microsoft is finally trying to differentiate between the two. (It's also possible that this is a mistake and that the final version of Update 1 will use the word "Snap" here instead.)

Start: Search

The Update 1 Start screen now includes a prominent Search button in the upper right of the screen that is much easier to target with a mouse than the Charms-based Search. (That said, traditional PC users should know that you can even more easily start a search by navigating to the Start screen and start typing.)

However, when you click this button, the normal Search pane opens as before.

Start: Power button

The Update 1 Start screen also includes a prominent Power Options button in the upper right of the screen that is much easier to target with a mouse than the Settings pane-based button. It includes the same power options, however.

Note: You can also access the power options from the WINKEY + X "power user" menu, which can also be displayed by right-clicking in the lower-left corner of the screen, on the Start button.

Start and Apps: Context menu

On the Start and Apps screens only—that is, not in PC Settings or any Modern mobile apps—you can now right-click on items to access a desktop-like context menu. (If you are using a multi-touch interface, it works as before.)

You can right-click a tile (or a selection of tiles) on the Start screen to access a menu of options related to those tiles.

You can right-click a blank area of the Start screen to initiate the naming of Start screen groups.

And you can right-click an icon or selection of icons in the Apps screen to access a menu of options related to those items.

And yes, these menus are truly context-sensitive. You will see different options for different items.

Unlike the new Disk Space feature I previously discussed, these are in fact fairly profound because they help to erase the divide between Modern and desktop, and in this case make the Modern environment a bit more hospitable to us traditional PC users. There's still a long ways to go, but this is a welcome set of changes indeed.

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