Six ways the Windows 8.1 update bridges the Desktop-Start Menu divide

With the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft has finally realized it has to make its duelling Desktop and Start Menu interfaces play nice together. Based on the latest leaks, here are six ways it does it.

Keep in mind that in Windows 8, the divide is not just between the Desktop and Start Menu, but between touch-based and keyboard-and-mouse interfaces. And as you'll see in the rest of this blog, the Windows 8.1 update bridges that divide as well. Note that all these features may or may not make it into the final, shipping version of the Windows 8.1 update. I've based most of my information on the excellent slideshow Network World put together about the update, based on a leaked version it installed. So things may change before the update finally ships.

Run Metro apps from the Desktop

This is one of the most important ways to bridge the Start Menu-Desktop divide. You'll be able to run Metro apps right from the Desktop, instead of having to switch to the Start Menu. You'll do this via the taskbar. (More about that later in this post.) And Metro apps will get a new title bar that will have minimize and close buttons. That way, you'll be able to minimize a Metro app and go straight to the Desktop.

Pin Metro apps to the taskbar

One of the Desktop's nicer features has always been the ability to pin apps to the Taskbar, so that it's easy to launch your favorite apps from there as well as switch to whatever is currently running. In the Windows 8.1 update, you'll be able to pin Metro apps to the taskbar, not just Desktop apps.

Use the taskbar on the Start Menu

In Windows 8.1, the taskbar will appear across the bottom of the Start Menu, not just across the bottom of the Desktop. It's a great way to unify the two interfaces, letting you launch apps and switch between them no matter which interface you're using.

Add context menus to Start Screen apps

The Start screen is almost entirely designed for touch rather than the keyboard and mouse. One nice tweak in the Windows 8.1 update changes that -- right-click an app's icon and you get a context menu onscreen with new options. In existing 8.1, when you right-click a series of options instead appear on the bottom of the screen, and the list is shorter than in the 8.1 update. One of the new options is to pin the app to the taskbar.

Get to the Control Panel on Start Screen settings

In existing versions of Windows 8, if you wanted to get to the Control Panel, you were forced to head to the Desktop. Not so with the Windows 8.1 update. With it, when you click the Settings charm and select Change PC Settings, you'll be able to get to the Control Panel.

Default boot to the Desktop?

It's not clear whether in the Windows 8.1 update you'll boot to the Desktop by default, or whether you'll have to turn that setting on yourself. Network World reports that you'll have to turn the setting on yourself, but ExtremeTech reports that on some machines, it's turned on by default, but not turned on by default on others.

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