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by Ray Carlson

Q. I heard that Windows 8 has a new version called 8.1. Why haven't I automatically received it?

A. Microsoft just announced that Windows 8.1 will be released on October 17. What you heard about was a preview version that was made available at the end of June. Microsoft warns that they are still refining this preview. As a result, they recommend backing up everything on your computer before adding it in case something goes wrong. If you are using Windows 8 and want to try this new version, click on the Windows store app. Windows 8.1 preview is featured there with instructions on how it can be downloaded for free. Adoption of Windows 8 has been low.

Critics have suggested the poor usage rates have been related to the way 8 varies from earlier versions of Windows. As a result, most of the initial discussion of 8.1 has focused on its return to some of these traditional Windows characteristics. The Desktop page will now include a Start button, a traditional feature. Clicking on the Start button will take the user to a new Start screen rather than a menu like before, but the page will include some traditional options including shutting down the computer. In addition, the settings can be changed so that the computer opens on that Desktop screen as in earlier versions. 8.1 also makes it easier to use a mouse and keyboard whereas version 8 was designed to support touchscreens.

There are several other changes: an improved Internet Explorer, more use of Skydrive for on-line storage of files, better use of multiple monitors and 3D printers, new apps for tasks like photo editing and recording sounds, new backgrounds and images, and so on.

Windows 8 pushed innovation requiring an extensive learning curve. A key question is whether 8.1 can find a better blend between tradition and innovation making those with experience with earlier versions more comfortable handling a modest amount of change.

Published: Courier 8/18/13 - Page 3C