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The Start button returns: One of the most confusing changes in Windows 8 was the removal of the Start menu. In fact, the Start button was completely gone, although there was an invisible clickable area where it used to be. Windows 8.1 brings back the Start button, but stops short of resurrecting the menu. Clicking on the button opens the Windows 8.1 Start screen, but a right click does give you access to some common functions like the control panel, task manager and the ability to shut down or restart the computer. Boot to Desktop: Users that don’t use touchscreens with Windows weren’t too pleased with Windows 8’s insistence on booting into the revamped, tile-based Start screen UI. In 8.1 Microsoft has offered a compromise of sorts. You will have the option to boot directly to the desktop. More Lock screen and Start screen options: Microsoft already had picture passwords, but now that feature has been expanded to allow multiple images to be pulled from the local storage or SkyDrive galleries. This effectively makes the Lock screen into a digital photo frame. You’ll also be able to capture pictures with the device’s camera, or answer Skype calls, without unlocking first. The Start screen now has more tile sizes and background colors, as well. Refreshed Xbox Music: One of the neat but under-appreciated features of Windows 8 is the Xbox Music integration. It allows users to stream over 30 million tracks for free. The only problem was the app’s confusing interface. In 8.1, Xbox Music is more user-friendly and supports custom playlists. Better search: For whatever reason, Microsoft didn’t include true universal search in Windows 8. In Windows 8.1, searching the device will pull up apps, local and SkyDrive files, and settings. Previously it only found apps. Overall, the entire search and All Apps view experience has been significantly rejigged to help out mouse-and-keyboard users. Snap Views and better multi-monitor: Some of the Modern/Metro UI apps look cool, but the modal single app usage could be annoying. In 8.1, users can run multiple apps in the foreground with Snap. If you have a 2,560×1,440 resolution or higher monitor, you can have four apps up at once. lower than that, and only three apps can be snapped in. These figures hold for each monitor, so you can have eight Modern UI apps up across two high-resolution monitors, for example. The Windows Store: The new Windows Store UI is cleaner and has larger images of the apps. Currently installed apps can also auto-update in the background. Hopefully this get developers more excited about making things for Windows 8. Extensive SkyDrive integration: Perhaps the biggest and best change in Windows 8.1 is extensive, all-inclusive SkyDrive integration. Now, when you set up Windows 8.1, you will be prompted to turn on SkyDrive — and by doing so, SkyDrive will be integrated right into Explorer. Accessing your SkyDrive documents from the Desktop is very easy and surprisingly slick. More files and settings will now be synced/backed up by default, too. Souped up Metro Control Panel: For touchscreen users, one of the biggest changes in Windows 8.1 is a massively beefed up Metro Control Panel. No longer will you have to fall back to the Desktop Control Panel to change a large number of system settings! 3D printing support: In a rare example of Microsoft being cool, Windows 8.1 now has a 3D printing API, allowing you to print directly to 3D printers from the Charms bar. Miracast streaming: Windows 8.1 supports Miracast, an open industry standard alternative to Apple’s AirPlay that uses WiFi Direct to stream content to nearby Miracast-enabled TVs.