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Microsoft’s quest to make Windows 8 palatable and useable to the general public has been met with much failure, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Despite the improvements under the hood to the OS and the unification of interfaces through Modern UI, Windows 8 continues to show slower growth than Windows 7 and Microsoft isn’t yet at the level they thought they’d be just over two years into the operating system’s life. But they’re making up for past mistakes with new features for Windows 8 and for the first time, a march back to the way things were.

Windows 8.1 Update will become available to download through the Windows Store on 8 April 2014, the day of the death of Windows XP support. Follow me after the jump to see what’s going to be changed!

Some of the features being implemented in Windows 8.1 Update open up options that were previously hidden, but now brought to the fore and also being in new functionality that users haven’t had before. Not much will actually get changed under the hood – that is, if you were installing the 8.1 update to a stock version of Windows 8, you’re not obliged to install Windows 8.1 Update to expose all the graphics options in Battlefield 4.

Although the naming convention is confusing, there’s a method to the madness. It would be nice if it were labeled Windows 8.1.1 but that would create the expectation that nothing would drastically change Windows in the future in the same way that Mac OS X only changes codenames and OS version numbers.

In any case, the changes, just as in the Windows 8.1 update which preceded it, are mostly cosmetic and apply to how Modern UI functions on systems that have no touch controls on-screen. A brief list follows with the changes:

1) A power button is now on the Start screen, on the top-right next to your avatar, but won’t appear for tablets by default (older methods for shutting down still work)

2) A search button is also on the Start screen, next to the power button, for easier access (older methods for search still work)

3) Tile customisation menu now appears contextually, instead of a bar at the bottom of the screen, for mouse users

4) “New installed apps” notification on the Start screen, apps are not automatically pinned to the Start screen

5) Windows Store app now makes suggestions for matching results when using search

6) A new option to display more apps in the “More Apps” screen accessible through a click on the downward-pointing arrow on the Start screen

7) PC Settings has its own tile on the Start screen by default

8) Metro apps are now pinnable on the taskbar and provide real-time previews right-click > Close option (older methods using the left-hand Switching bar still work)

9) Mouse-friendly minimise and close buttons and snap to left or right menu options in full-screen apps

10) The taskbar now appears in full-screen apps and is accessible like the Charms bar

11) All instances of the word “Skydrive” are now replaced with “OneDrive” following litigation surrounding Microsoft’s use of the word “Skydrive.”

12) Windows now boots to the desktop by default if a preference isn’t configured by the user

13) PC Settings now has a “Disk space” menu and includes the option to join domains

14) Internet Explorer compatibility is improved to support web apps that only worked in IE 7 and 8

Microsoft thoughtfully put up a video explaining some of the changes and it’s presented by Joe Belfiore who works… on the Windows Phone team? I’m not sure why they picked Joe, but he explains things well enough.

One under-the-hood change that has taken place is that devices running Windows 8.1 Update will make lighter use of system resources. The footprint of the default Windows install is now much smaller to accommodate 16GB drives and it will run more acceptably on 1GB of system memory. Those changes are welcome for a particular reason – it means that Intel Bay Trail and AMD Temash/Kabini tablets running Windows 8 will be cheaper! This doesn’t extend to current devices, however, only new ones shipping with Windows 8.1 Update installed by default will see the benefits.

As Windows XP support dies, Windows 8.1 gains a better grasp of what consumers want. Is anyone upgrading? Let us know in the comments below!