Apple's latest operating system (OS) update, expected to be released next week, is called Mavericks.
Google's soon-to-be-released Android OS update will be called KitKat.
What is Microsoft calling its super-important Windows update that is supposed to motivate the world to migrate? Ah, Windows 8.1. So deal with it. Aside from an uncreative name, here is what you can expect from today's launch.
Prepare to Update
With the PC market slowly being strangled by tablet and mobile sales — it was down 8.6 percent last year according to Gartner — and with Microsoft's domination being challenged by ever-sexier Macs from Apple and a wider range of Chromebooks from Google, this is an important Windows update. In fact, it is Microsoft's big response.
Windows 8.1 is the OS designed to persuade everyone to upgrade from older versions of Windows and reinvigorate Microsoft's poor Surface and partner PC sales.
Whatever Windows 8 you have running — the original or the 8.1 preview in any bit flavor — you can update it today for free when the servers kick in. The update went live today at noon in the UK, 7 AM on the US East Coast and 4 AM on the US Pacific Coast. Before updating, it is probably best to run an update check and download any new versions of drivers or patches so your system is as up to date as possible.
You might also want to backup any documents and data from your hard drive to cloud or external storage, just in case something does go wrong. With millions of PCs in different configurations, there's bound to be the odd glitch despite Microsoft's best efforts. Note updating from the 8.1 preview will require you to reinstall all your apps.
With all that done, you can sit around and wait for the big moment to grab your download. See this Microsoft page for the details. If you're still on Windows 7, you will have to pay $119.99 to download Windows 8.1 and $199.99 to download Windows 8.1 Pro (and be prepared for fresh installs.) If you want a whole new PC, then you can order or pick up a Windows 8.1 powered machine starting tomorrow. But check before you buy: the machine may come with Windows 8.0 and you'll need to update it yourself.
What's In the 'Box'?
If you've been playing with the Windows 8.1 preview edition then you should know the basics. We have a perfunctory start button back on the desktop and the option to boot to desktop will be a standout for any traditionalist user. Mouse and touchpad support is improved for those without touchscreens to mimic touch features, while the Charms have also been improved.
On the interface formerly known as "Metro," there's a lot more flexibility and customization with new sizes of tiles and greater interactivity with them. Internet Explorer 11 also takes a bow and the whole OS plays with cloud services like SkyDrive and so on. Bing becomes a Smart Search service and Microsoft has just posted an extensive blog on the topic.
More subtle improvements include some more mobile and enterprise-friendly features including NFC tap-to-pair printing and WiFi Direct printing. Broadband tethering allows you to turn your 3G or 4G PC or tablet into a personal WiFi hotspot, which is always handy when your broadband dies.
For those looking for something a little more exciting, there's also improved support for 3D printers, rapidly becoming a boom industry in its own right. And, if you are after some new hardware, expect a raft of new devices including smaller tablets and form factor notebooks, with Nokia likely to unveil the Lumia 1520 phablet next week.
Let us know how your update experience goes and any problems or "wow" moments you have. We'll update if any major news breaks to accompany the update on the system, app or devices front.
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