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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 devices. If you currently have mouse and keyboard PCs, but interested in adding some tablets or touch monitors, Windows 8.1 is an ideal fit for your organization.
For more in-depth coverage, check out Should You Upgrade to Windows 8.1? and How to Upgrade to Windows 8.1.
If you're already running Windows 8 at your organization, you won't see a huge difference with the 8.1 upgrade appearance-wise. But you will notice one familiar, beloved feature when you're in desktop mode: the Start button. Yes, the Start button, ubiquitous on most of the previous versions of Windows, is back in action. It doesn't function like the Start button on Windows 7, however: it's actually a shortcut to the Start screen from desktop mode.
Like Windows Phone 8, 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 grant's Website, you can "snap" Internet Explorer 11 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 is how Windows 8.1 does search. 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 contractors 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. In a future update, you'll also be able to sync tabs with Windows Phone 8.
Reading List is a new bundled app that has a lot of potential for staff that do online research. Reading List is an easy way to save articles for later reading. You don't need to have the Reading List app open to save articles to it, either. You simply hit the "Share" icon (you bring it up by swiping or mousing over the left side of your screen) and then save to your Reading List.
You've probably read that you can download the Windows 8.1 upgrade through the Windows Store for free. That's not the case for nonprofits, charities or public libraries that have received Windows through TechSoup, however. You can upgrade to Windows 8.1 through the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC). For more information, read this explanation from Microsoft. If you need a VLSC refresher, check out our article Volume Licensing Service Center – Getting Started.
If you are still running Windows 7 and older, you can upgrade to Windows 8.1 through TechSoup's Microsoft donation program. See our Microsoft page for more details.
Ginny Mies is a Content Curator at TechSoup Global.