Windows 8.1 with Bing’s Low Cost

You can see that Microsoft is really – really trying to get Windows 8.1 computers into our homes and offices.

Microsoft has this week announced a new low-cost version of Windows 8.1 that will be pre-loaded on new computers. The newest SKU (stock keeping unit) is simply called “Windows 8.1 with Bing” and according to Microsoft will allow its hardware partners to “build lower cost Windows devices.”

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When I first heard rumors of this Bing-ified version of Windows 8.1 back in late February, it was being suggested that it would be made available for free. However, nothing in Microsoft’s announcement this week mentions anything about the new SKU being “free” to OEMs.

According to Microsoft, “Windows 8.1 with Bing” will look and perform exactly the same as all other versions of Windows 8.1 with Update 1. However, Bing will be mandatory as the default search engine in Internet Explorer (it is believed that OEMs can set their own default IE search engine from the factory, but this obviously won’t be the case with a subsidized version of Windows 8.1). However, customers will obviously have the ability to change their default search engine if they wish, which of course Microsoft is hoping the majority will not take the time to do.

Microsoft explained the reasoning behind providing OEMs with this new Bing-ified SKU:

More people—across consumer and commercial—will have access to an even broader selection of new devices with all the awesomeness that Windows 8.1 provides, and get Office too, all at a really affordable price. Additionally, as reach expands, the opportunity for developers and their apps also increases.

It is obvious that the only reason for doing this by Microsoft is to offer a less expensive version of  Windows 8.1 for customers.

Microsoft is hoping to push more Windows 8.1 and at the same time increasing the usage of Bing, which ironically is actually a quite good search engine.

An honorable, out-of-the-box attempt by Microsoft if you ask me.

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Windows 8.1 Gains Ground

I had a feeling this was going to happen and surprisingly to some (not me) it seems that Microsoft’s newest OS Windows 8.1 is actually showing strong growth. I say “surprisingly” but it should not because all the cards are stacked in 8.1’s favor. Windows XP users are being forced to look for a new OS and Windows 7 is actually pretty hard to get hold of and the most recent update of 8 was designed to make Windows 8.1 more appealing to keyboard and mouse users. If Windows 8.1 had not grown market share in April then it would have been pretty much game over for the new operating system. With that being said, 8.1 actually performed very well.

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As was to be expected Windows XP lost a huge number of users, with its share falling 1.43 per cent – from 27.69 per cent in March to 26.26 per cent in April. The downward trend is set to continue, and possibly accelerate, now that Microsoft is no longer providing security updates for the aging OS and flaws like the recent one affecting Internet Explorer make sticking with XP an increasingly dangerous digital gamble. Although Microsoft did patch IE 8 for XP this will not happen again.

There is still a lot of room for growth as far a Windows 8.1 is concerned. However 8 has turned away from the dangerous curve and it will survive, although it will probably never be Microsoft’s most popular OS. This is to be expected because Windows 8 was the first OS to cross the bridge from the traditional non-touch screen to both touch screens and tablets.

I will also say this. If you are looking for a new PC or laptop, spend the money on a touch screen  with Windows 8.1. Without a touch screen Windows 8 struggles, but it was never really intended for use with that limitation.

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The Return of the Start Menu

Microsoft is having a really good first quarter of 2014. After the much anticipated release of “Office for iPad” Microsoft this week provided a sneak peek to their next update for Window 8.1. This update seems to have Microsoft accepting the idea that there are distinct differences in need between the consumer user and the enterprise user. From the look of things the new update for Windows 8.1 will start to silence some of the criticism regarding the touch direction Microsoft wants to move it’s operating system.

The biggest and most exciting news here is that Microsoft is apparently bringing back the much missed Start Menu. Pictured below is a prototype version of the Start Menu that will be seen in the update, showing a mash-up of the Windows 7-style desktop apps list with the Windows 8 Start Screen’s Live Tiles.

The update will also bring the ability to run Modern apps in windows on the desktop, as shown through the same demonstration. Neither of these features will be available in Windows 8.1 Update 1, but Microsoft says it will come in an update sometime later this year.

Stay tuned…

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Windows 8.1 Released Today

Microsoft’s update to Windows 8.1 is now widely available to download, free for Windows 8 users, from the Windows Store.

Major change for the operating system include a revamped Start screen, that now provides more options for customization and layout. The upgrade also finally brings side-by-side multitasking of Windows 8 apps, which was another criticism of the original Windows 8 release. You can also now boot directly to the desktop, bypassing the Start screen altogether. This in particular is something enterprise users have been screaming for.

While the update is free for users upgrading from Windows 8, people coming from Windows 7 will need to simply buy the Windows 8 upgrade ($119, or $199 for Windows 8 Pro) and then make the upgrade for free.

Microsoft said that in-store customers will be able to buy a boxed version of the software from tomorrow, and that PCs sold from October 18 would come with 8.1 pre-installed. If for some reason you buy a new computer and it still hasn’t been updated to the newer version of the OS, you will of course be able to download it for yourself for free.

What’s New with Windows 8.1

When Windows 8 was first introduced last year, many users resisted the touch-orientated changes that Microsoft had made to the platform, such as creating separate UIs for different working areas with the Desktop and Windows 8 modes.

It seems that the removal of the Start button displeased many people. And that’s putting it mildly. Personally I had no problem with this, but I am not the typical PC user.

With today’s official launch of Windows 8.1, it’s time to see if the changes that the company has made to the operating system iron out these issues, or indeed, raise new ones of its own.

For anyone familiar with Windows 8, making the jump across to Windows 8.1 will be a painless experience, and while there are plenty of changes under the hood, I will focus on all the newest, most useful changes here. You will still find the same general way of navigating such as the  ‘Charms Bar’  (Search, Share. Start, Devices, Settings) which you get to by just swiping away on the right side of the screen. Swiping from the left still cycles you through apps and swiping up from the bottom usually brings up additional options for whichever app you are using. Naturally, all of this only applies when using it in Windows 8 mode, rather than the desktop.

Starting October 18, Windows 8.1 will be made available to Windows 8 users for free from the Windows Store, and downloading and installing will work just as they would for any other app. The company just announced that for non-Windows 8 users, the installer will be available on that date, and that as of October 2, you can pre-order full Windows 8.1 installation media (either download or disk) from Microsoft’s online store.

Once Windows is installed and you are ready to go. The first thing you will want to do is link up your Microsoft account. If you don’t have one I recommend creating one. Skydrive will give you 7GB of free cloud storage and you will want access to the Microsoft Store so you can download apps.

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