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Windows 8.1

Windows 8 is edging toward 10 percent market share, but its predecessor still dominates the world of desktop operating systems.

According to November stats from Net Applications, Windows 8 had 6.66 percent of the global market, while the updated Windows 8.1 had 2.64 percent, for a total of 9.3 percent.

That's up ever so slightly from October, when Windows 8 stood at 9.25 percent of the market, with 7.53 percent of users on Windows 8 and 1.72 percent on Windows 8.1, which debuted mid-month.

Windows 7 is still the most popular OS at 46.64 percent, which is about the same market share it had last month. The aging Windows XP is holding strong at No. 2 with about 31 percent, followed by Windows 8.

Vista is sandwiched between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, both of which top Apple's new OS Mavericks 10.9, which had 2.42 percent of the market in November.

When it comes to mobile OS share, though, Apple is the big winner. Its iOS captured 55.17 percent of mobile and tablet operating system share in November, followed by Android at 33.89 percent. Broken down by version, the iPad was No. 1 (32.57 percent), followed by iPhone (22.01 percent), and Android 4.1 (13.55 percent).

Net Applications also tracks browser share, and in November, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 was most popular with 21.74 percent of the market. Rounding out the top five was IE10 (17.5 percent), Firefox 25 (10.43 percent), IE9 (9.25 percent), and Chrome 31 (6.77 percent).

Windows 8.1 Review

  • Pros

    Fastest startup of any Windows version. Loads of included apps and utilities. More windowing options for new-style apps. Improved stock included apps, especially Mail. Much better help for getting started. More harmony between tiled Start screen and desktop. Boot to desktop. Start button always displays. Better browser with IE11.

  • Cons Dual nature of OS may still confuse some. Windows app store lacks some big titles.
  • Bottom Line

    Windows 8.1 sticks to Microsoft's strategy of delivering an operating system that's equally at home on tablets and full-power desktop PCs, but many of the flaws of Windows 8 have been fixed.

Coming just about a year after Windows 8's release, Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade through the Windows app store for existing Windows 8 users. It will be available to anyone else from the Microsoft Web Store, as a packaged DVD and on new PCs, laptops, and tablets, starting October 18. As with Windows 8, there's a standard and a Pro version, priced at $119.99 and 199.99 respectively. The Pro version adds business capabilities like disk encryption and network domain joining, and is required for those who want Windows Media home theater capability.

Improvements include a more consistent look between the desktop and mobile app interfaces, lock screen slideshow and notifications, better help to get people going with the new interface, the ability to boot to the desktop, a Start button, more windowing options for new-style mobile apps, and more settings in the new-style interface. The Windows app store gets a much-needed face-lift, and the default apps like Mail, Internet Explorer, Skype, Xbox Music and Video, and search also benefit from updates.

Start Button and Boot to Desktop
Two features that longtime Windows users cried out for after Windows 8's original release have made their way into Windows 8.1—the Start button and the ability to boot to the desktop, where standard Windows programs can run just as they have for the last few versions of the OS. The Start button Microsoft has included, however, isn't quite what the longtime users were hoping for, since it opens the new-style Start screen.

A Better Desktop PC, Too
In addition to these features, Windows 8.1 maintains Windows 8's improvements for hardcore desktop users: Much faster startup, improved battery life for laptops, better security (including Trusted Boot for UEFI systems), the File History automated backup and versioning utility, clearer task manager and file move dialogs, and the ability to mount disk image files as virtual drives, among other improvements. And to top it all off, Windows 8.1 actually has a smaller disk footprint than Windows 8.

win8-searchMore Powerful Search
When you invoke the Search charm and enter a query, nay, even before you enter it, you'll see significant changes in Windows 8.1. First, after typing just a couple letters, you'll see suggestions for apps, but also for popular web searches and more. Even before your query, you can change the scope of your search from Everywhere to Settings, Files, Web Images, and Web Videos. But the result page holds the biggest changes. If you search on any popular musician, you can play their top songs, watch their videos, and scroll through pages of website info. If you search on "Chicago," you'll see a Bing Map, the current weather for that city, and attractions.

Business and Security Improvements
Windows has a strong business case, with the ability for IT pros to manage huge numbers of machines, controlling their access to corporate resources. Windows 8.1 furthers the case, with better BYOD mobile controls and better security. With 8.1, Defender has been improved as has native VPN connectivity. An "auto-triggered" VPN option will automatically connect a remote Windows 8.1 client to a website or other work resource that's behind a company's firewall, for example.But I still don't see a leader among the built-in VPN options—Cisco.

A new Workplace networking option can grant mobile workers access to internal apps and websites. If an employee leaves the company, IT will be able to remove just the business assets, so the whole device doesn't have to be wiped. All this applies to Windows RT as well as x86-based PCs.

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