Microsoft has released a huge, free update to last year's Windows 8 operating system.
Windows 8.1 might sound like a minor upgrade, but the revamped OS has won rave reviews from the tech press who said it addressed many of the original software's flaws.
The update is available through a free download to anyone running a current copy of Windows 8 for desktops, laptops and Windows RT tablets.
If you have a machine running Windows 7, or want to upgrade to Windows 8.1, charges will apply however.
The major new features of the OS include:
- The 'Start' button returns - though not quite as you remember. Tap the new icon located in the lower-left of the screen, and it will take you back to the Tile homescreen. Right click the button to access tools including the control panel, and shutdown/restart options
- You can not boot straight to the traditional desktop, instead of the tiled homescreen. The option is hiding in the new Taskbar and Navigation properties menu, which you can find by right-clicking the taskbar
- Homescreen tile sizes - you can now set the tiles to be one of four different sizes - leading to an experience more akin to that on Windows Phone
- Universal search - instead of searching within apps you can now search from anywhere - for anything
- Better multitasking, with options to run four apps side-by-side from the tile screen
- Better cloud integration with SkyDrive
- Redesigned Windows Store making it easier to find new and better apps
- Automatic app updates - a feature you can find in the Windows Store settings
- Hot Corners can be disabled, meaning you won't launch unwanted features by accident
- Reading List, a new app that collects content from Internet Explorer and other apps to read later
Microsoft said of the update:
"Windows 8.1 evolves the Windows vision for highly personalised computing while showcasing Microsoft’s continued commitment to rapid and responsive development. It marks a wave of new, innovative devices coming for consumers and businesses — from the convenience and mobility of tablets and 2-in-1s to the productive experience expected from laptops, all-in-ones and specialised industry devices."
The reviews so far have been positive. The Verge gave the OS 8.8/10, and said that it was "a mostly successful attempt to make the platform more usable for tablets and PCs alike". While the site said Microsoft still had "more to do" it said the update made the OS "something easier and more familiar".
Meanwhile Cnet said the OS was not a "radical departure" but was instead "a series of generally positive tweaks and updates to Microsoft's forward-thinking OS, and a clear attempt to change the tenor of the conversation about Windows 8".
Apple Macbook Air 13 Inch
<a href="http://www.apple.com/uk/" target="_blank">A light but powerful compromise</a> between the heavier-duty Macbook Pro, the new 13-inch Macbook Air has an incredible 12-hour battery, a new Intel Haswell chip and is just as light and portable as ever. A stunning machine.
Google Chromebook Pixel
<a href="http://www.google.com/intl/en_uk/chrome/devices/chromebook-pixel/" target="_blank">Google's ChromeBook Pixel</a> has the best screen we've ever seen on a laptop - and features stunning hardware design. It only runs the browser-based Chrome OS, however, and as such is severely limited in what it can actually do. But for the right kind of user, it's a wonderful machine.
Apple Macbook Pro 15-Inch With Retina Display
The Macbook with Retina display is just a beautiful, capable machine in every respect. WIth its elegant OS X software, stunning looks and lightweight, portable design, <a href="http://store.apple.com/uk/buy-mac/macbook-pro" target="_blank">it's an all-around classic.</a>
Samsung Series 7 Ultra
Samsung makes thin, beautiful, hard-wearing laptops, and this is no exception. It has an i% chip , a brilliant 1080P touchscreen and runs the always-improving Windows 8.1 OS. It starts at £1,000 and if you want a Windows machine at the same price-point as a Macbook Air, it's a good place to start.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13-inch
<a href="http://www.laptopmag.com/review/laptops/lenovo-ideapad-yoga.aspx#review">Laptop Magazine said</a> "the IdeaPad Yoga is an able contortionist, blurring the line between laptop and tablet, while enabling users to explore the full capabilities of Windows 8". We agree. With a bright touchscreen, an 180-degree rotating display and an all-important sturdy hinge, it's a decent bridge between tablet and laptop.
HP Chromebook 11
Like the bigger, and much more expensive Pixel, the Chromebook 11 only runs Google's very limited browser-based OS. But it also costs just £229, has a genuinely excellent screen and keyboard, and charges via MiniUSB rather than a traditional laptop charger. It's a storming machine for the price, as long as you're able to live within Google's walled garden.
ACER Aspire S7
The S7 is the same weight as the Macbook Air, has a great 1920 x 1080 pixels (touch) screen and is actually a little thinner than Apple's signature laptop. It has a lower-quality battery, though, and while it's cheaper by about £60 you might want to make sure Windows is that crucial for your workflow before making your choice.
For gamers you can't go far wrong with the <a href="http://www.dell.com/uk/p/alienware-17/pd?ST=alienware%20m17x&dgc=ST&cid=41141&lid=1069630&acd=239715600820560" target="_blank">Alienware M17x</a>. It's hefty, yes - you're not going to want to carry this around on the Tube too often. But it has a brilliant graphics card, as you'd expect, a 1080p 17-inch screen and runs an Intel Core i7. (Starts at around £1315)
Sony Vaio Pro
Sony's Vaio Pro line-up has all the basic high-quality features you want: they're light and thin, with decent battery life and excellent displays. They also have Sony's trademark black-ninja design and a few decent extras. They're not perfect - <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2013/6/4/4395926/sony-vaio-pro-review-were-going-to-war-with-the-macbook-air" target="_blank">The Verge notes they tend to feel a bit "flexible" in the middle</a> - but they're an excellent pro laptop range.