Microsoft has taken a lot of grief over Windows 8. The company set out to build software that would work equally well on traditional keyboard- and mouse-driven personal computers as well as on tablets that are mainly suited for touch. But many folks thought this radical new operating system was confusing, if not borderline schizophrenic. Computers running Windows 8 haven’t exactly been greeted with open arms.

Last week Microsoft released a preview version of Windows 8.1, the first meaningful update to Windows 8 and the company’s initial attempt to smooth things over. The software is available now for anyone to try, but keep in mind that a preview is just that, a preview. Indeed, Microsoft cautions that there are risks to downloading 8.1 at this stage. It is also premature to do a formal review of Windows 8.1, so consider this column a preview as well.

What I can say after a few days with a Surface Pro loaner tablet is that Microsoft has added a number of pleasing touches. Whether they will be enough to lure the reluctant masses remains to be seen.

Key takeaways:

Start Me Up

Maybe the biggest change you’ll notice is the return of a familiar Start button, located in “Desktop” mode in its customary location at the bottom left corner of the taskbar. Those who had lamented the missing Start button shouldn’t go gaga — clicking or tapping on the new Start button returns you to the default Windows 8 Start environment, known as the Modern UI. That’s where you’ll find the colorful rectangular and square tiles, some with live data (weather, stocks, e-mail, etc.) that have come to define the fresher Windows interface on computers and smartphones.

New to 8.1 is the ability to boot up in the more traditional-looking Desktop environment, if you prefer.

Seems to me Microsoft doesn’t…