Review: Windows 8.1 Update offers an olive branch for mouse users

Windows 8.1 Update brings a tiny handful of mouse-centric improvements and a hodgepodge of interface tweaks

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Another taskbar trick
The taskbar also makes an appearance on the Metro side of the fence. Hover your mouse at the bottom of a Metro app -- even at the bottom of the Metro Start screen -- and the taskbar appears, as in Figure 4 below.

Hover your mouse over a taskbar icon, and a thumbnail appears. In the case of Xbox Video and Xbox Music (shown in Figure 4), you even get a miniature set of controls, so you can play, pause, or fast-forward or back from the thumbnail. (No, there's still no volume control.)

Several observers have pointed out, rightfully, that this intrusion of the Desktop taskbar into Metro brings something of a mixed visual metaphor. Metro was designed to allow app switching by swiping from the left and choosing a running app. The (ancient!) taskbar approach performs in a roughly analogous way, except you can bring up individual desktop programs with the taskbar. I would only note in passing that Metro also allows app switching through the old Alt-Tab "coolswitch," so the metaphor was broken already.

Like the title bar, the Metro-side taskbar only appears to mousers.

Behold the new IE
Windows 8.1 Update includes a new version of Internet Explorer that sports a couple of new tricks. By default, the Update-d Metro IE shows the navigation bar and tabs at the bottom of the screen. In earlier versions, you had to know to swipe from the bottom to see the stuff ... which in every normal browser is at the top.

The new Metro IE also has the wrench-icon Options entry -- at the bottom -- that provides a shortcut to the Options pane. Previously, you had to swipe from the right, choose the Settings charm, then choose Options. Metro users must have lots of discoverability problems with charms.

The new Enterprise Mode has seen some serious press, but I've noticed very few details. For example, corporate IE mavens want to know how Enterprise Mode differs from the old Compatibility View settings. We'll no doubt learn more in the weeks ahead.

To enable Enterprise Mode, run gpedit.msc as an administrator. Choose Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Internet Explorer, check the boxes to set both the Let Users Turn On and Use Enterprise Mode checkbox and the Use the Enterprise Mode IE Website List checkbox to enabled. Reboot, and in IE, press Alt, then choose Tools > Enterprise Mode.

Windows 8.1 Update Metro taskbar
Figure 4: The taskbar now appears in all Metro apps, as well, including the Metro Start screen.
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