Windows 8 ushered in a new look and feel to Microsoft's operating system, mainly bringing the Metro interface used on tablets and smartphones to the desktop. Windows 8 separated the interface into two environments: Metro -- now called Modern -- which contains tiles and apps, and Desktop mode, which looks and operates much like Windows 7.
When Windows 8 starts, a user must click the Desktop tile to work in Desktop mode. When in Desktop mode, the user can simply click the Start button to return to the Modern environment.
Note that you can configure Windows 8.1 to boot directly to Desktop mode, avoiding the Modern interface completely.
However, a major complaint from Windows 8.1 users is the Start button functionality. Instead of displaying the familiar Start menu, where a user can click on any installed application, the Windows 8.1 Start menu provides access only to several Control Panel and administrative features, and the Search feature.
To open an application like Microsoft Word in Windows 8.1 from the Start menu, a user must select Search, type "Microsoft Word" and select the application from the results list.
Another method is to create shortcuts on the desktop. Windows 10, which is expected to be released later in 2015, is supposed to restore more functionality to the Start menu, similar to Windows 7.
One of the best features of Windows 8.1 is the ability to access your files and settings across devices, whether they are desktop PCs, tablets or smartphones. When you first use Windows 8.1, you create a Microsoft account. When you use the same account on any Windows-based device, you have access to the same files and settings.
Another feature that makes the transition to Windows 8.1 easier is the system's relatively fast boot time, especially if you boot from a solid-state drive. It also features better security, and the Windows To Go Creator feature (Enterprise Edition) lets you create a bootable and fully functional Windows 8.1 system on a flash drive.
Windows 8.1 includes mobile device management tools
Kiosk mode for Windows 8.1 works only with Modern apps
Microsoft tightens encryption in Windows 8.1
The Windows 8.1 user interface has incremental improvements
Power users will like Windows 8.1 features, but gotchas still lurk
Post-XPalypse: How to survive in a world changed by Windows 8.1
Windows 8-Linux dual boot stirs controversy
Retro users can reskin the Windows 8 Start menu
Dig Deeper on Windows 8 and 8.1
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