David Harper
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Microsoft released a free service pack for its poorly received Windows 8 operating system last week. Dubbed Windows 8.1, the update includes a large number of tweaks which as a whole make Windows 8 more user friendly and especially more helpful for users who have been stuck with a touch-oriented operating system on traditional non-touchscreen desktop and laptop computers. The tweaks include the addition of a quick help app for new users and the return of the Start button, whose demise in the original Windows 8 last year was the source of much angst and confusion.

The update is available now in the Windows Store, and depending on your hardware is somewhere between 2.1 and 3.5 gigabytes in size. So should you upgrade right away? Our advice is that unless you have a Surface tablet you should wait a few weeks while hardware manufacturers prepare new drivers for your computer. Unfortunately some key manufacturers, particularly the graphics card vendors, have yet to prepare certified drivers for their hardware products. Hopefully these deficiencies will be resolved by the end of the month. As for Surface owners – happy downloading!

If and when you do upgrade, be sure to back up any data which is not stored on your SkyDrive to ensure that if something goes wrong you are able to recover your important information. In addition, please note that if you own Start8 you must upgrade to the latest version before installing Windows 8.1 to ensure that you don’t lose your Start Menu after the upgrade.

Don't know about Start8? Well, if you or someone you know have been stuck with a Windows 8 desktop or laptop and don't like the new touch-friendly interface, Start8 from long-time Windows customisation vendor Stardock is going to be your new best friend. In just a few clicks Start8 – which costs just five dollars U.S. – turns Windows 8 back into something that looks and works almost identically to Windows 7. Aside from re-implementing the Start Menu itself, Start8 also lets you turn off the various touch-oriented Windows 8 features and even allows you to go directly to the Desktop when you log in, rather than having to make your way through the unfamiliar touch mode first. (Note that Start8 is designed for 'traditional' PCs and does not work on Surface RT.)

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