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Microsoft concedes Windows 8.1 needs more for mouse, keyboard customers

Even so, it renews vow to push touch strategy

February 23, 2014 03:07 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft on Sunday publicly acknowledged what leaks had already shown, that the company will issue an update to Windows 8.1 this spring that provides more tools for owners of traditional PCs controlled by mouse and keyboard.

In a press conference at Mobile World Congress (MWC) and an accompanying blog post, Joe Belfiore, the executive in charge of Windows Phone's and Windows 8's user experiences, announced that the update will launch this spring, but did not put an official name on the revision or reveal a timetable.

Most analysts and pundits have used "Windows 8.1 Update 1" as the name of the impending update, and believe it will be released in early April, either at the Build developers conference, slated to run April 2-4 in San Francisco, or on that month's Patch Tuesday, which is April 8.

Coincidentally, April 8 is also the day when Microsoft will deliver the final public security updates for Windows XP.

"We are making improvements to the user interface that will naturally bridge touch and desktop, especially for our mouse and keyboard users," Belfiore wrote on the Windows Phone blog. "We have a number of targeted UI [user interface] improvements that keep our highly satisfying touch experience intact, but that make the UI more familiar and more convenient for users with mouse/keyboard [emphasis in original]."

Among the changes in Windows 8.1 Update 1, according to PCWorld, which was at Microsoft's MWC press event, will be search, power and settings icons displayed on the Start screen (currently, users must bring those into view by clicking on the bottom-right corner of the screen, or on a touch-enabled device, swiping from the right); the ability to launch and switch "Metro" apps from the desktop's taskbar; and a right-click menu that lets mouse users close apps and return to the Start screen.

PCWorld, like Computerworld, is owned by IDG.

Other changes believed to be in Update 1 include a default boot-to-desktop setting on non-touch hardware -- which some analysts have interpreted as a retreat from the "make-them-eat-Metro" strategy Microsoft started with for Windows 8.

Belfiore denied that Sunday. "Don't worry, we still LOVE and BELIEVE IN touch," he wrote in his blog post. During the news conference, Belfiore reiterated that affection. "We love touch [and] we have no intent to degrade the touch experience," he said.

He also asserted that other changes would "enable our partners to build lower cost hardware for a great Windows experience at highly competitive price points."

Specifically, Windows 8.1 will be retuned to relax its hardware requirements. According to Belfiore, the update will run on devices with as little as 1GB of RAM and 16GB of flash memory storage space.

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