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Windows 8.1 Update 2 is Here, But It’s a Big Letdown

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The update formerly known as Windows 8.1 Update 2 — now known as the August Update — was released on August 12. You probably didn’t even notice. It’s a small update that barely adds anything.

Microsoft was hyping Update 2 at one point, promising it would bring the return of the Start menu to Windows 8.1 and make all those disaffected Windows users happy. That didn’t happen.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Became Windows 8.1 Update

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Microsoft has been trying to improve the speed at which it releases Windows. Windows 8.1 was the first step in that, offering many improvements just a year after Windows 8 was released. Windows 8.1 Update 1 came even faster after Windows 8.1. With Windows 8.1 Update 1, computers without touch screens will boot to the desktop by default and use desktop applications as their default programs — a huge improvement! There’s also a power icon on the Start screen and title bars in store apps so mouse users can use the system more easily. No more searching for how to shut down Windows 8!

But Microsoft had to make this more complicated. Before its release, they decided to rename Windows 8.1 Update 1 to simply “Windows 8.1 Update.” This is a very silly name — there have been many updates to Windows 8.1. But Microsoft didn’t want to imply that Windows 8.1 would receive an “Update 2″ because they really didn’t know what they were doing.

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Update 2 and the Return of the Start Menu

Update 2 was going to be huge. At Microsoft’s BUILD conference, they announced the return of a Start menu to Windows and “Store apps” running in windows on the desktop. Microsoft sources told The Verge and other tech sites that the Start menu would return in August as part of “the second update to Windows 8.1.”

Coming on the heels of Windows 8.1 Update 1 offering better defaults to desktop users, a Windows 8.1 Update 2 offering a proper desktop start menu would have been another massive improvement. Microsoft would have been listening to their customers and addressing the biggest remaining complaint with Windows 8.1.

Here’s the image Microsoft showed off to developers at BUILD in April, 2014:

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The Start Menu is For Windows 9 Only

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Somewhere along the line, Microsoft changed their mind and decided not to release the Start menu to Windows 8.1 users. The Start menu — and other crucial features like the ability to run those fancy new “Store apps” in windows on the desktop — are now scheduled for Windows Threshold. Threshold will probably be called Windows 9 when it’s released.

Why did they push the Start menu back? Well, we don’t really know. Microsoft seems to have accepted that Windows 8’s name is completely tainted. They want to move on as fast as possible to Windows 9 and offer a big, flashy Windows 9 release with huge features like the return of the Start menu. Windows 7 was a polished and fixed-up version of Windows Vista — hopefully Windows 9 will be an improved version of Windows 8.

More cynically, it’s possible Microsoft is holding back the Start menu to Windows 9 so they can charge Windows 8 and 8.1 users an upgrade fee to get it. Traditionally, Windows upgrades have cost $100 or more. At the moment, Microsoft charges $119 to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. With Windows 8, upgrades were available at $40 — but only temporarily. Microsoft hasn’t announced pricing for Windows 9, so hopefully they won’t do this.

Mary Jo Foley and others have reported rumors that Windows 9 could be free to Windows 8 and 8.1 users, and maybe even Windows 7 users — hopefully it will be. Microsoft probably hasn’t decided yet.

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In their blog post on the subject, Microsoft is spinning what happened to Windows 8.1 Update 2 as a positive. They say they’re speeding up the update process — “rather than waiting for months and bundling together a bunch of improvements into a larger update as we did for the Windows 8.1 Update, customers can expect that we’ll use our already existing monthly update process to deliver more frequent improvements along with the security updates normally provided as part of ‘Update Tuesday.'”

This does make sense, but the feature users want most — that Start menu — is now much more delayed. Rather than being available now in August, it’s scheduled for Spring 2015 in a completely new operating system that may require a $100+ upgrade fee. That’s hardly delivering improvements at an accelerated pace!

What Update 2 / August Update Actually Includes

Never mind what we were supposed to get — here’s what Windows 8.1 “August Update” or “KB 2975719″ includes according to Microsoft:

  • Precision Touchpad Improvements: Options for disabling the touchpad while a mouse is connected, allowing right-click on the touchpad, and enabling double-tap to drag are available in PC Settings on systems with precision touchpads.
  • Miracast Receive support: Developers can use new APIs to create applications and driers that can function as a Miracast receiver. This isn’t really a feature for end users — it’s an API that allows developers to create a feature.
  • Minimized Login Prompts for SharePoint Online: There’s now a “keep me signed in” check box for logging into SharePoint Online.
  • Update and Recovery Settings: The Update and recovery pane in PC settings now displays when you most recently checked for updates and when updates were installed.
  • Ruble Symbol Update: The update adds support for the Russian Ruble currency.
  • Out-of-date ActiveX Control Blocking: Internet Explorer will block out-of-date, dangerous ActiveX controls from loading. This should protect people from all those old versions of Java out there.
  • Video Capture Metadata for MP4 APIs: Developers of “Store apps” can now use additional APIs to read and write additional metadata on MP4 files.

None of this is very exciting, so it’s no surprise that Microsoft is trying to downplay this update as much as possible. They’re renamed it from “Update 2″ to simply the “August update” or, more specially, the “August 2014 update rollup.” It’s just a bunch of updates being released this month — everyone move along to Windows 9, nothing to see here.

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It’s a shame Windows 8.1 users will have to wait until Spring 2015 for a Start menu that Microsoft clearly agrees should be there. But Microsoft is clearly done with Windows 8.1 — they’ll release small updates, but they’re not trying to fix the interface anymore. All that important interface-fixing work will happen in Windows 9. Hopefully we won’t all have to pay another $100 or more to upgrade again.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 08/20/14