Windows 8.1 now available as free update

17 Oct 2013

The Windows 8.1 Start screen

Microsoft’s first update to its multi-device-friendly Windows 8 has arrived, and is available as a free download in over 230 markets and in 37 languages.

Windows 8.1 is available now via the online Windows Store and boxed software will reach bricks-and-mortar retailers tomorrow, 18 October. For Irish users who prefer to compute as Gaeilge, an Irish langauage pack is coming in the near future.

Perhaps most welcome for users is the return of the Start button – that familiar navigation point that has been a Windows staple since Windows 95, until it was unceremoniously dropped in the first iteration of Windows 8.

It’s back with Windows 8.1, and users can also choose what screen they want to see on start-up: the new, colourful Start screen or the familiar desktop mode.

The Start screen now comes with more customisation options including variable tile sizes, and additional background designs and colour schemes.

An updated apps views lets users see all apps at once for easy access, and a new Help + Tips app will help users get used to the new interface. Internet Explorer 11 will also come pre-installed on all Windows 8.1 devices.

Windows Store on Windows 8.1

The Windows Store on Windows 8.1

For additional apps, the Windows Store has undergone a redesign with new layouts and categories such as ‘New & Rising’, plus personalised recommendations powered by Bing. As with Windows 8, apps are updated automatically by default.

Apps available include Facebook for Windows 8.1, Adobe Photoshop Express, Netflix and Twitter, and a cohort of new Irish apps including TodayFM, Newstalk and O2 Priority Moments.

Split-screen apps on Windows 8.1

A split-screen of four open apps on Windows 8.1

With Windows 8.1, users can use up to four apps side by side on-screen, with flexible window sizing. One app can also be used to launch another.

Users can search the device and the web in one fell swoop with Bing Smart Search. Built for touch, users can simply swipe or type from the Start screen to start searching.

Bing Smart Search on Windows 8.1

Bing Smart Search on Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 is also keeping up with the times with native suport for 3D printing. This means devices will be ready for plug-and-play 3D printers and apps can managed 3D file formats.

The updated operating system also comes with improved multi-monitor support and deep cloud integration with SkyDrive.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.