Windows 8.1 reinstates the Start button and adds support for 3D printers

Microsoft is showing off the latest update to Windows 8, but is it enough to make you switch?

Microsoft is currently strutting its stuff on the brightly coloured stage at its Build 2013 developer conference – and it's kicked things off with a look at some shiny new features in Windows 8.1.

With Windows 8 coming in for some criticism from users who felt that Microsoft had changed too much, too soon, Windows 8.1 is a chance for the software giant to tease those who have yet to switch. Let's take a look at what's new, shall we? And yes: the Start button is back. 

The Start button returns!

It's about time. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft has restored the hallowed Start button (albeit using the funky new 'flat' version of the Windows logo), which was forcefully torn away in the touchscreen-focused Windows 8. Clicking the Start button in the traditional desktop view will overlay a list of all your Start screen programmes and apps for easy access.

Windows 8.1 reinstates the Start button and adds support for 3D printers

Right clicking it will also let you access all the power options too, so you can turn off or put your PC to sleep without faffing around. And about time too.

Oh, and you can boot straight to the traditional desktop mode if you're really adamant on keeping things old school. That's three gold stars in our book.


Snap happy

Windows 8.1 also now lets you 'snap' two apps side-by-side with a 50:50 ratio as opposed to one always being larger than the other. You can also run up to eight apps side by side – unless you're on a tablet, in which case it's still only two.

Handy tweaks include links in an email snapping open to the side of your inbox as opposed to throwing you out completely, making for a more fluid multitasking experience.

It's the little things…

Windows 8.1 reinstates the Start button and adds support for 3D printers - It's the little things… 2Windows 8.1 reinstates the Start button and adds support for 3D printers - It's the little things… 3

Search has been tweaked too, with Windows 8.1 serving up a shiny new interface that's a treat for the eyes. It's not all eye candy though – a single search can now collate results from your PC, apps and the web, letting you launch apps.

Results are also more useful. Search for a singer, for example, and you'll get a play button and a link to their songs and albums thrown up in the results. The lock screen's also gone under the knife, with a slideshow option to jazz things up a bit.

Did we mention that you can also have animated Start screen backgrounds?

The Windows Store has had a makeover, too – it's now easier to find and download apps, while the the camera app can now snaps frames both before and after pressing the shutter, cutting down the chances of you missing a shot.

More after the break...

Internet Explorer 11

The new IE looks more or less the same as its predecessor, though tabs have been moved to the bottom of the screen. You can also create separate live tiles which can be pinned to the Start screen – handy for keeping tabs on your favourite RSS feeds. IE 11 will also let you save pages for reading them later and can detect phone numbers in web pages so that you can dial them up without having to copy and paste.

3D Printing?

Microsoft's decided to play nice with Makerbot and a handful of other 3D printing companies, adding native 3D printing support to Windows 8.1. No more faffing around, just hit print and your mini masterpiece will be adorning your desk in all its plastic glory. Initially big-name printers from the likes of Cubify, PP3D and Makerbot (hopefully its awesome 3D scanner too) will work without hassle, and more models will be added over time.

This is pretty exciting news. If anyone can take an emerging hobbyist technology and make it simple and mainstream, it's the purveyors of the world's most popular computer OS.

Try it yourself

While the free Windows 8.1 update won't be out till later this year, you can try a preview version right now. Just hit up this link, follow the instructions, and take it for a spin.


[Star button image credit: The Verge | IE 11 image credit: Tech Radar]

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