Windows 8.1 represents an improvement on Windows 8, which radically changed the direction of Microsoft’s operating system to that of a tablet-based future.

Most of Windows 8.1 changes are small, yet they significantly improve user interaction and make for a more personalised operating system.

Upon logging in, users will be presented with the Start Screen, as in Windows 8. However the Start Screen has been improved to be more visually attractive. The size of the app tiles can still be changed, yet they now show more information. For example the Weather tile can expand to show the three day forecast in three different places, while Calendar shows all your activities for the day.

Also, desktop apps can now be represented with colourful tiles rather than the standard app icons.

One new feature that is sure to prove popular with long-time Windows users is the return of the Start button on the desktop taskbar. This allows users to navigate between the desktop and Start Screen. However, there is no Start Menu, as in the Windows OS’s of the past. It is merely a link to the Start Screen.

Still on the subject of the Start Screen, it is now possible to set the desktop wallpaper as the backdrop to the Start Screen. The colour scheme can also be easily changed with a colour picker.

Moving on to applications, one major change is the position of apps once opened. By default, apps now open in a 50/50 view with the current open app. For example, if Word is open in full screen and you then open PowerPoint, both apps will appear side by side.

All apps can have multiple windows and extend across multiple monitors. Large screens can cater for up to four apps open side by side, and each can be changed to give certain apps more space.

One app that has undergone a major upgrade is Search. Previously on Windows 8, Search was very specific. Now, it will find results stored locally on hard drive or SkyDrive, but will also use Bing to gather results off the Internet.

Bing Smart Search has been developed specifically for Windows 8.1. It works at its best when searching for a person or place. For example, a search for Marilyn Monroe will lead to a full screen result that includes photos, personal information, titles of movies she appeared in, as well as a list of popular songs and links to sites such as Wikipedia.

Bing will also retrieve data from applications. For example, if searching for audio from a certain artist it will open Xbox Music.

In addition, news will be presented in search results with important information from Wikipedia. The results are laid out clearly and intuitively. It all flows, allowing users to get the information they want easily.

Microsoft have clearly put a lot of time and money into Search, and it shows.

Another significant change is SkyDrive. All settings, files and apps are stored on SkyDrive, meaning a user can log onto any PC using Windows 8.1 and load up documents and apps as if it were their own computer.

Importantly, instead of loading up the entire SkyDrive storage to a PC, only icons and basic information is shown to identify a file. The file is then downloaded on the spot when opened. Files and folders can be downloaded fully to make them available offline.

This greatly increases user access and makes it convenient for both work and personal use, as everything is available all the time on any computer with Windows 8.1.

Microsoft have put a lot of work into Windows 8.1. The improvements will appeal to traditional Windows users and attract more people to use it.

Many changes will come as a relief to Windows 8 users who have struggled with the system since purchasing it. The best part for these people is the update is free to them.

Microsoft now need to work on further improving the system, which we look forward to reviewing once released.

Hayden McMaster