Windows 8.1 is officially out and the verdicts are ringing in from around the world. Has Microsoft managed to make the new OS a better product for those switching between mouse and touch? What about the core apps? Is one year enough time to bring improvements to Mail, People, Skype, etc? If the early reviews are to be believed then 8.1 goes a long way towards improving the UI that was introduced with Windows 8. Let’s see what the reviews around the world are saying. Our own Windows 8.1 review is not far from being done and look out for it in the coming few days. In the meantime, let’s take a summarised look at some other reviews.

The New York Times was scathing on some of Windows 8.1’s new features, and their gadget expert David Pogue being slammed by Microsoft’s PR head, Frank Shaw on Twitter. Pogue’s video review titled “Dear New Microsoft CEO…” minced no words about the schizophrenic user experience enforced by Microsoft. It called out Microsoft’s insistence on the new Start Screen, making references to Steven Sinofsky, the President of the Windows Division, who left the company last year under not so amicable circumstances. Shaw’s response on Twitter was equally critical of Pogue’s work.

Gizmodo sub-titled their review ‘Little Changes Make a Big Difference’ and that seems to be the general consensus among reviewers. After all, we weren’t expecting wholesale changes a year after the radical reinvention of Windows. So yes, there are a bunch of small changes that improve usability across the board. Gizmodo spoke about the cool factor of many of these additions. “Using two Metro apps at once is now practical in virtually all scenarios, instead of just ones that lend themselves to a 30:70 split like browsing the web and looking at Twitter. Specialized search results for cities and people and bands and TV shows are striking, beautiful even, but they also don't get in the way of finding more traditional results. Even more gimmicky features—like being able to share websites that feature a text-based list of songs to Xbox Music and have it generate an actual playlist—are undeniably cool, and all the better for being built-in.

The redesigned Windows Store

The redesigned Windows Store

Some reviews pointed out some of the fallings in 8.1 in a more balanced manner than Pogue's take. Huffington Post says, “There's no easy way to open apps without going to the full-page start screen. Before Windows 8, there was a Start button on the lower left corner to do that. The Start button has been restored in Windows 8.1, but not its functionality. So if I have video playing, it stops as I switch from app to app or do one of those universal searches.” This is a justified complaint and one that creeps in to most reviews. Multi-tasking is still not that great on 8.1, despite the possibility of having four apps snapped at one time. But users can’t change the orientation of these ‘snaps’ and they line up vertically. A little flexibility in arranging these snapped apps would have eliminated many nagging issues.

Ars Technica was all praise for the new Mail app. “Mail in Windows 8.1 feels more integrated with other applications than it did in Windows 8. Clicking on a picture attachment opens the image in your computer's picture library, but Mail remains visible on the left-hand side in a “snapped” view. Likewise, clicking a document attachment gives you a preview of the document without forcing you out of the Mail app.” If you are unfamiliar with this new feature, snapped views automatically arrange themselves based on which app will require more screen real estate, so pictures will take up 3/4th of your screen, while the email inbox snaps to a single column. This is an especially neat trick in Windows 8.1

Multitasking now supports up to four simultaneous apps

Multitasking now supports up to four simultaneous apps

The Verge gave the new OS a score of 8.8 out of 10. They felt that Microsoft has made a lot of improvements within 12 months, counting the SkyDrive integration and the powerful built-in search as the highlights. The changes in Windows 8.1 “best demonstrate the company's promise of a collaborative Microsoft that's working together to improve Windows and other products.” In conclusion, they said, “Windows 8 users will certainly welcome the changes with 8.1, and they should help clear up some confusion in some areas.”

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