Microsoft Corp. is hoping to bridge the gap between personal computers and tablet devices with the public release today of Windows 8.1, the latest version of its touch focused operating system. The night before Microsoft Canada held a big bash in Toronto for the introduction of the new Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 tablet devices.

Windows 8.1 is available for download today (free for current owners of Windows 8) while the second generation Surface tablets will be on sale in Canada starting October 22.

The long-awaited OS upgrade addresses some user grievances against the previous version such as the disappearance of the start button and lack of an easier way to switch back to a traditional desktop interface.

The third upgrade to the OS restores the start button, allows users to bypass the Windows 8 tile screen and boot to a desktop mode and introduces new gesture shortcuts for touch-based apps, a customizable tile organizing feature.

Windows 8.1 eliminates the need to toggle back and forth between numeric and alphabetic keyboard layouts by offering an on-screen swipe keyboard that allows users to type number or punctuation marks by simply swiping up or away from certain keys.

Beyond the start button and tile changes, according to Al Gillen of analyst firm IDC, the new OS offers a number of improvements that addresses the needs of enterprise organizations. He said CIOS need to take a closer look at Windows 8.1.

While Windows 8 focused on the consumer market, its latest version offers better IT controls, security features and device management features, he said in an interview with Computerworld.com.

With Windows 8.1, he said, Microsoft got the message that they needed to do “a lot more work to make the OS more appropriate for business customers.

Windows 8.1 makes the user experience seamless as they move from PC to tablet devices, according to James Nicholson, senior product manager for Surface at Microsoft Canada.

“From accessing and using cloud-based apps, doing online searches to online collaboration and communication Windows 8.1 makes it easier for the tablet or PC user,” he said.

Nicholson said the Surface Pro 2 is aimed at business users while the Surface 2 is targeted at the consumer market. The Surface 2 is powered by a Tegra 4 processor, its starting price is $449.

Starting price for the Haswell chip-based Surface Pro 2 64GB is $899.

“The Surface Pro 2 is not just a tablet, it’s a full-on PC replacement device capable of allowing users to do most of the work they do on their laptops on a tablet,” he said. “It’s a premium notebook in a tablet form.”

A 256GB flash storage version of the Surface Pro 2 will sell for around $1,299 and the 512GB version will sell for $1,799. Release for the 512GB version has been pushed back to December.

The tablets boast of a stronger battery that allow users to work on their devices for up to double the battery life of the previous model, said Nicholson.

The Surface Pro 2 runs on an Intel i5 processor. It comes with a USB 3.0 port, a microSD Flash drive port and a Mini DisplayPort for projector connections. A new dual angle kickstand lets users work on the tablet on their desk or lap.

Accessories include a docking station, a touch cover keyboard ($119.99), a lightweight backlit keyboard cover ($129.99), an Arc Touch bendable mouse ($69.99) and a car lighter outlet charger with USB port.

 

 

 

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