With Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft embraces the desktop again

Meanwhile, Microsoft has unveiled Cortana, a Windows Phone 8.1 voice assistant intended to rival Apple's Siri. 

Microsoft
With the updated Windows 8.1, Internet Explorer 11 automatically adjusts to your device.

Microsoft has taken the wraps off an update to Windows 8.1 intended to assuage users who felt a little discombobulated by the touch-centric interface of prior editions. 

Over at the Windows blog, Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc runs down a few of the new features included in the new Windows 8.1. Among them: the ability to pin apps to the task bar; the ability to right-click on tiles to bring up context menus; a Web browsing experience that detects your device and adjusts the screen layout accordingly; and a boot-to-desktop option. 

"If you like using the desktop, you will be happy to know that select devices will now boot to desktop as the default setting," Mr. LeBlanc writes. "And on your taskbar, you can now pin both desktop apps and apps from the Windows Store as well as your favorite websites. You can now pin any app you want to the taskbar so you can open or switch between apps right from the desktop." 

But the most interesting aspect of the Windows 8.1 update launch may be the unveiling of the Cortana voice assistant, which The Verge describes as "very much Microsoft's answer to Apple's Siri, Samsung's S Voice, and all the other voice assists software suites out there." Cortana gets its name from the AI mastermind in the Halo franchise; like Siri, it can set up calendar appointments, remind you of upcoming events, or conduct rapid-fire searches. 

Time is reporting that a beta version of Cortana will launch first in the US in late April or early May along with the rest of the the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system. A wider roll-out should follow. 

So how does the rejiggered Windows 8.1 perform? Well, Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet has spent some time with the new update on her laptop, and she's happy with what she sees. "I'm more at home," Ms. Foley writes. "My usual workflow feels less interrupted by Windows 8 than it did without the Update. With the 8.1 Update installed, Windows 8 feels more familiar, sensible and useful to me. Moving between Metro and Desktop is finally starting to feel less jarring." 

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