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Can Windows 8.1 Save The PC?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - A lot of computer manufacturers, employees and their fans are banking on Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) coming-up with a miracle cure to keep personal computers alive. In the long run, I'm not sure there is much anyone can do to keep easy-to-use, lower-cost tablets from world domination. However, Microsoft is going to try its best to stem the tide.

There is still a huge user base who prefer personal computers over tablets to complete certain tasks. That means there are still millions of PC users who look to Microsoft to keep improving its Windows operating system. Unfortunately, last year's Windows 8 was not the solution.

For many used to doing their tasks in a Windows 95/98/XT/Vista/7 environment, Windows 8 turned out to be a nightmare. Adapting to navigating the new operating system was difficult. And, the software was meant to be used on new, touch-screen devices which few users owned or wanted to buy. Windows 8 could be used on non-touchscreen devices but the Win 8 "experience" was even worse for those people. Businesses weren't ready to upgrade their hanrdware to run Win 8.

So, the PC industry placed all of its bets on that new OS and lost. Not enough buyers of any kind came to the table. At the same time Apple (AAPL - Get Report) iPads and Google (GOOG - Get Report) Android-based tablet sales soared. Microsoft had to do something. That something is Windows 8.1.

Currently in beta, Windows 8.1 addresses some of the problems of the last year's Windows 8. We have installed the Windows 8.1 Preview software on a number of devices including notebooks, touch-screen laptops, and two Windows RT tablets. It is a big improvement over last year's software. Some features still need work. For instance, the handling (actually mishandling) and playback of digital music files is but one problem area.

There are fundamental changes in how you navigate from one screen to another in Windows 8.1 making many operations easier to accomplish. The largest improvement is the addition of an on-off switch allowing users to boot directly into the old Windows "Start" screen rather than the newer horizontal rows of boxy icons. That screen is still available but now you can choose to land in the more familiar setting when you turn on your computer.
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