Now that a leaked build of a forthcoming Windows 8.1 update has popped up online, it looks like Microsoft may have a better shot at easing the transition to its new Modern UI.
A few file-sharing sites are now hosting what appear to be leaked versions of the first update to Windows 8.1. Previous reports, like a few from Paul Thurrott , have said that the update would include the ability to boot Modern UI apps from the desktop. I've said that seemed like a way to discourage people from using the Modern UI.
But now that I've seen the screen shots and combined with a couple other reported updates, I'm starting to think that these changes may help ease people into using the Modern UI, rather than throwing them headlong into it as the original Windows 8 did. If these features were available from the start, Microsoft might have avoided some of the Windows 8 backlash. But it's not too late, given that a lot of people are exclusively using desktop mode or haven't used Windows 8 at all.
The screen shots show that users will be able to pin Modern UI apps to the lower task bar in desktop mode. Not only will users be able to hover over the icon of the app in the task bar to see a preview, they'll be able to click on it to switch to the app. (See below.) PC World is calling this  a stopgap measure in advance of the release of Windows 9, which is rumored to allow users to run Modern UI apps in windows on the desktop.
In the current Windows 8.1 release, it's still jarring for users to try to use Modern UI apps and traditional desktop apps (like Office apps) at the same time. Users without a touch screen can't just toggle back and forth by clicking on a visible icon. Instead, from within a Modern app, a user must hover the mouse over the top left corner of the screen, click on the image of the desktop, and then find and click on the app they want to use.
That's enough of a pain that I generally avoid using Modern UI apps. But if users find it easier to toggle between desktop and Modern apps, using apps pinned to the taskbar, they may just use more Modern UI apps. As they use more Modern UI apps, they may also start to see the value of the Modern UI start page.
That too may get some improvements, if the leaked build turns out to be real. The leaked build shows that users will be able to right click on an app icon on the Modern UI start page and get a drop down menu for doing things like unpinning from the start page, uninstalling, or turning the live tile off. (See below.) The Modern UI start screen is a great way to organize apps but it's tricky for many people to figure out how to customize it. Bringing back the familiar right-click menu options may make it easier for users to discover the customization options.
There's also a new bar that runs on top of Modern UI apps. (See below.) When users hover over the bar, they'll get options to do things like close the app or snap it to the left or right. Again, these are neat features of Modern UI apps that aren't necessarily intuitive to new users. Offering users a menu that lets them see their options might make them more likely to jump aboard.
The Modern UI app menu bar and the right click on the Modern UI home page also make it easier to use Windows 8 without a touch screen. That's helpful for people who are updating an old machine (or for people like me for whom the touch feature mysteriously dies).
Microsoft hasn't confirmed the validity of the leaked build and it's never certain that any leaked features will actually come out. But if these updates do appear, they're a step in the right direction toward easing a transition to Microsoft's Windows vision.