This blog post was originally written by Ginny Mies, Content Curator at TechSoup. This post has been adapted and expanded for a Canadian audience by TechSoup Canada.
Looking for a leaner, faster, and more modern-looking operating system? Try the latest version of Windows. Windows 8.1 bridges the gap between touchscreen and keyboard, making the operating system more versatile across all devices.
Subtle Adjustments to the Interface
If you're already using Windows 8 at your organization, you won't see a huge difference with the 8.1 upgrade in terms of appearance. But you will notice one familiar feature when you're in desktop mode: the Start button. Yes, the Start button is back! It doesn't function like the Start button on Windows 7, however: it's actually a shortcut to the Start screen from desktop mode.
Another adjustment you'll notice is that you can resize the tiles on your Start screen. For example, you can expand the Calendar tile so it shows all of your meetings for the day. If you're still not used to the Start screen, you can now opt to boot directly to the desktop mode.
Swiping or scrolling down brings you the All Apps view, a list of all installed apps on your PC or tablet. You can also now make the All Apps view your default screen when you boot up. One helpful new feature is the ability to organize your Windows 8 apps into "snapped views." This means that you can have two apps open, side-by-side. For example, if you're writing a grant proposal, but need to refer to the funder's Website, you can "snap" your Internet browser side-by-side with Word. Depending on the size of your display and its resolution, you can snap up to four apps together.
One of the biggest changes in Windows 8.1 is the search function. Search is now universal, meaning it taps into Bing Smart Search, SkyDrive, and your local hard drive to provide you with results. It's an easy way to quickly find information when you're not 100% sure where it is located or what you're looking for.
Critics are hailing the revamped SkyDrive as the best new feature of Windows 8.1. You can now sync your PC's settings with SkyDrive, set up automatic syncing, and download files for offline use. If you're using another PC, you can log into your SkyDrive account and feel right at home – your files and settings are all available to you! This is a helpful feature if you have volunteers or consultants who share computers.
With Windows 8.1, you'll also get the new Internet Explorer 11. Along with being more touch-friendly, Microsoft's browser supports unlimited tabs. IE 11 organizes your tabs at the bottom of the browser window, which makes navigation more manageable on smaller screen tablets. You can sync your tabs with other Windows 8.1 PCs and tablets.
How to Get Windows 8.1
You may have heard that the upgrade for Windows 8.1 is accessible in the Windows Store, however this is not the case for nonprofits or charities that have received Windows through TechSoup Canada. You can upgrade to Windows 8.1 through the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC). Follow our step-by-step guide on “How to Download and Install Your Microsoft Donation from the VLSC" if you're not really sure what the VLSC is or if you need help navigating the VLSC.
If you are still running Windows 7 and older, you can upgrade to Windows 8.1 through TechSoup Canada's Microsoft donation program.