Top 8 new features of Windows 8.1

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Microsoft has offered a window on Windows 8.1, the expected update to its controversial Windows 8 OS.

Microsoft's corporate VP for Windows Program Management Antoine Leblond wrote in a blog post that "the response to Windows 8 has been substantial...We've learned from customers in how they are using the product and have received a lot of feedback. We've delivered hundreds of updates to the product and to apps. We're just getting started, and the potential ahead is tremendous."

Among the tweaks in Windows 8.1 are "enhancements" in personalization, search, built-in apps, the Windows Store and cloud connectivity.  These are the 8 most intriguing improvements Microsoft announced today.

1. Lock screen slide shows
Microsoft saw Windows 8 users displaying photos of their loved ones on their Lock screens, so they figured, why stop at one photo? In Windows 8.1 users can turn their Lock screen into a slideshow of photos that they've taken straight from their device or from SkyDrive. Or users can take photos right from the Lock screen with the built-in camera.

2. More Start screen options
In Windows 8 you could choose your colors and backgrounds for the Start screen, but now the options have multiplied. Plus, Windows 8.1 adds more tile sizes, so each user can customize his Start screen exactly how he wants. And because Windows 8 users reportedly accidentally moved items on their Start screen, in Windows 8.1 you have to press and hold to move an item.

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3. Bing-powered global search
Users can activate the Search charm to find something through Bing, then the results will display everything from apps to Web results to actions you can take, like playing a song or opening a file.

4. Better Snap Views, Built-in Apps
Apparently every built-in Windows 8 app will have some sort of improvement in Windows 8.1. For example, the Photo app add will add some editing features, while the Music app helps you pick and play music.

The ability to run multiple apps simultaneously will also improve, with snap views so you can see more than two apps on your screen and resize those apps, rather than having one main and one docked app as in Windows 8. That way, you can literally build your interface to look exactly how you like. Plus, users can have the same app running on multiple windows, such as Internet Explorer, for improved multitasking capabilities.

5. More comprehensive Windows Store
The Windows Store on Windows 8.1 will emulate Google Play and Apple's App Store, with lists of top free apps, new apps and top picks right on its homepage, so you don't have to dig. Microsoft promises to give more info about each app, so you know exactly what you're getting before tapping Download, and a related apps section gives more options. And if you know exactly what app you're looking for, a search function in the upper right gives you quick access.

6. SkyDrive saving
Files will be saved directly to SkyDrive, and you can access them even when you're offline. Plus, if you log into your device using your account, all your settings and apps will sync.

7. Internet Explorer 11
The only browser built for touch, Internet Explorer 11 takes advantage of Windows 8's key features and offers better touch performance, faster page load times and several other features, such as the ability to adjust the appearance of the modern IE11 to consistently display the address bar and have as many open tabs as you want.

8. Improved mouse/keyboard options
For those who haven't transitioned to touch, Windows 8.1 adds some improvements for those using a traditional keyboard and mouse. Whenever you move your mouse to the bottom left, a Windows tip appears. Plus, you can opt to automatically boot into alternate screens, so, for example, if you'd rather view your Apps page versus all of your tiles, you can boot directly into Apps view.