As with Windows 8, the search bar can be found by pulling out a menu from the right side of a display screen. Rather than requiring a user to select a category, such as “files” or “apps,” Windows 8.1 will make it possible to find just about anything available on the computer’s hard drive or on the web just by typing in a few words. For instance, a search for “Marilyn Monroe” might display biographical information about the late movie star pulled from the web, a selection of photos and video and even songs she sang. Anyone who wants to hear a particular song stored on the computer or play a specific game such as “Angry Birds” will just need to type a title into the search box to gain access within seconds.

The redesigned search tool is meant to provide Windows 8.1 users with “pure power and instant entertainment,” said Jensen Harris, Microsoft’s director of user experience for the operating system.

Applications also can be found by sorting them by letter or category.

Other new features in Windows 8.1 include a built-in connection with Microsoft’s online storage system, SkyDrive, to back up photos, music, and program files; Internet Explorer 11, the next generation of Microsoft’s web browser; a lock-up screen that will display a slide show of a user’s favorite pictures; resized interactive tiles; and a photo editor.

In an effort to avoid further confusion about the operating system, Windows 8.1 also will plant a tile clearly labeled “helps and tips” in the center of the startup screen.

Even as Microsoft positions Windows 8 as its solution to the popularity of touch-screen tablets, it hasn’t proven it’s compelling enough to put a major dent in the popularity of Apple Inc.’s pioneering iPad or other tablets running on Google Inc.’s Android software.

Microsoft, though, remains convinced that Windows 8 just needs a little fine-tuning.

“We feel good about the basic bets that we have made,” Leblond said.