What's new in Windows 8.1? Microsoft spills some of the beans
Windows 8.1 (codenamed "Blue") is the upcoming update for Microsoft's desktop operating system, Windows 8. The company has been pushing out its latest major release of Windows since late last year with bumps in the road and goals ahead to smash. Details as to what consumers can expect to see in Windows 8.1 have been rather vague, but today Antoine Leblond, Corporate Vice President, Windows Program Management revealed some of the changes.
No matter which way you look at the launch of Windows 8, it has been successful enough for the company to continue pushing forward, including feedback from customers into any features that are planned to be implemented. As Windows Phone owners, we're all ecstatic to see Microsoft continue to head down the integration road where unity between Windows, Xbox One and Windows Phone is brought closer to the "three screens" vision.
So, what can we all expect to see in Windows 8.1?
Microsoft will be delivering improvements and enhancements in key areas of the Windows 8 experience. This includes personalisation (which is extremely important to many users), search, built in (or 'system') applications, Windows Store, cloud connectivity and non-touch peripheral support. Businesses will also be seeing some improvements as the company will also be touching on management and security, which will be discussed more at TechEd North America next week.
For consumers, Leblond has gone into some detail as to what will be included in the Windows 8.1 update. So do read on...
The lock screen can be configured to display a slideshow of selected photos, perfect for those who wish to have those favourite moments on-screen. Files hosted on SkyDrive, as well as those stored locally on the device will be included and the ability to take a photo using a built-in camera right from the lock screen is now present. Neat.
If that wasn't enough, Microsoft has also included more choice of colour and background textures for the Start screen - including some with animation. It's even possible to choose the desktop background as the Start screen background, creating a greater sense of unity. Let's not forget the small tile sizes that have been brought across from Windows Phone. Here's an example of what can be the end result:
The new Start screen in Windows 8.1
To wrap up the personalisation section of changes, users can now select multiple apps and resize, uninstall or simply rearrange them. If you're one to accidentally move tiles around, you'll be pleased to hear the team have applied measures to help prevent this from occurring. Viewing all installed apps on a machine is as easy as swiping from the bottom. Filters are in place to help sort apps by name, date installed, most used, or by category.
Finally, a nice change is when apps are installed from the Windows Store, tiles are no longer automatically created and instead the app heads to the main app list. This puts Windows on the same wavelength as Windows Phone.
Speaking of Windows Phone, Microsoft will also be changing the way the search charm works. Global results will now be provided by Bing, with multiple sources being tapped into (web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions a user can take and more) to provide the "best answer" for any given query. The blog post states it's the "modern vision of the command line."
Local files, apps and settings are easily accessed in the same convenient view - simply scroll to the left and they're available.
Apps and the Windows Store
Leblond only touches on how the team will be improving all the built in apps that ship with Windows 8. An example was provided with the Photos app now sporting some new editing features that enable users to quickly edit and adjust photos accordingly. The Music app has also been completely redesigned. More information covering all the changes that will be applied to the built in apps will be published in the near future.
Windows 8 Store
If there's one issue with Windows 8 that upsets those who upgraded from previous versions, it's multitasking. Windows 8.1 is billed to improve on this with variable, continuous size of snap views. Users will have more ways to see and interact with multiple apps on the screen at any given time. Apps can be resized to any size, share the screen between two apps or have three apps opened up on multiple displays.
New snap view in Windows 8.1 (with 'Start' Windows logo)
We're sure many will be pleased to hear Microsoft attempting to implement new ways to get more apps on the screen when not in desktop mode.
We noted changes to the Windows Store are on their way too and these were also touched on in the blog post. The new store app is designed to display more information than what's currently shown in Windows 8. This extra information includes detailed lists of top free apps, new releases and personalised picks on the homepage. Each app listing is also more descriptive and informative, with an area for related apps to aid with app discovery.
The SkyDrive app has been revamped in Windows 8.1 and access to files that are stored either on the cloud or locally on the device is more convenient, as well as providing offline access. As an added bonus, when a consumer logs on to a Windows 8.1 device with a Microsoft account, all personal details, configurations and apps are all pulled down from the cloud. This makes transferring from one device to another real simple.
New SkyDrive app in Windows 8.1
Another area that has been improved is the PC Settings. This isn't the vintage Control Panel as you know it, but more the new area on the new start screen where Microsoft has grouped numerous options and settings. More configurations have been added to PC Settings in Windows 8.1, including display resolution, power options, make and model of PC, product key and more. This saves time by not forcing the user to head into the Control Panel.
PC Settings in Windows 8
SkyDrive can also be managed from here with the option to purchase more storage.
Microsoft's web browser continues to receive much love, care and attention from the company. This isn't changing in Windows 8.1 as Internet Explorer 11 will be included. The updated browser will bring better touch performance, improved page load times and several other features. An example of said features is users can now adjust the appearance of modern IE11 (the one that runs in full screen and is selected from the Start screen) to always show the address bar and multiple tabs can be opened at any one time, which can be synchronised across other Windows 8.1 hardware.
Improved support for keyboard and mouse
Microsoft continues to recognise the way technology is evolving for a world of mobile computing with touch screens. This is why the company continues to improve on its touch interface in Windows 8. But the many non-touch devices with Windows 8 installed have also been recognised. This brings us to probably one of the new highlights that will please most Windows 8 users - improved keyboard and mouse support.
Microsoft has added the familiar Windows logo to the Start "tip" (when you hover the mouse to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen) that is displayed when the mouse is moved to that corner. This logo will be constantly visible on the taskbar when in desktop mode. There are now options to change exactly what these corners do, as well as the ability to boot into alternative screens. Example: if you prefer to see the full list of apps instead of tiles, this is now possible when booting up the device.
Wrapping it all up
There you have it, folks. These are reportedly just a handful of the updates that will be included in Windows 8.1. More information about these updates and other changes will be published in the coming weeks. As a reminder, Windows 8.1 will be available later this year as a free update for all consumers through the Windows Store (much like how app updates are handled).
June 26th will be when the public will be able to demo these changes in the preview build of Windows 8.1. Windows Embedded will also be discussed at this year's Build and will be upgraded in the same timeframe as Windows 8. Sound off your thoughts in the comments.
Source: Windows Blog; thanks to everyone who tipped us!
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Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.
I like unifying the desktop/start background, but I think they could take it a step further by making the start screen translucent.. so your desktop and start don't feel like 2 separate environments. When in desktop mode, all your little/big tiles show up, but you can see the other crap (dimmed) on your desktop. That might help consumers feel less "confused". my 2 cents
Even today, there are numerous SMS Apps for Windows 8, including Skype. Due to the 'cost' of SMS, you have to buy a subscription or use messaging credits since you do not have have a 'carrier' that handles the costs.
In 2006 when you could buy Netbooks at ATT with integrated 3G, they all came with built in SMS/MMS software, and many carrier 3G/4G USB and Mifi product STILL come with SMS/MMS sofftware for Windows.
As the ecosystem contracts and you find WP8 and Windows RT/Windows 8 tablets ALSO being offered by Telco-Carriers, you will find SMS to be a standard feature of any Cellular enabled Tablet/Notebook.
*As a side note, Windows 8 'technically' supports the internal functionality for SMS; however, it is dependant upon the provider/carrier to implement the APIs into an 'App'. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/hardware/hh770508.aspx
so its not like wp8 needs it since it doesnt have desktop. it might but i doubt they would.
so it has always been there but now its getting better. besides the new 2 sizes.
This was a brief blog post... if they didn't mention it it must not be coming right?
I can mention over 30 things coming with Windows 8,1 that were not mentioned here. Also, it's not certain if it will make it in the Windows 8.1 RTM, but in the leaked builds there is undeniable evidence that a unified notification center is coming.
I was the only one who found it and posted about it.
How do you deny a file called "CloudNotifications.exe"? Sure, it might mean something else, but I reverse engineering the source code and took it a step further. Finding code for forwarding specific notifications to devices and other stuff.
You make me sick.
I think MS should make use of the charms bar and the other "swipe menus" the exact same way in both OS.
They could do it with blue / WP8.1, but I guess they won't before WP9 appears...
As far as a notification center, thats where it pulls up a list of past notifications from apps, which, if used right, live tiles do the same thing more efficiently (Live Tiles can be used as a replacement. Its major problem is developer adoption, to those out there who think its not a viable replacement. A notification center would be even less useful anyways, seeing as more apps utilize Live Tiles then they do Toast notifications.)
Notification centre like the one on XBOX 1 or android or IOS. Where it pulls up all the mails, phones, SMS, whats app notifications, FB notification etc. One can argue you have live tiles for that but it kind of is tedious to look at the live tiles every once in a while to see for updates. A notification centre with lock screen customisation would be awesome, (i speak for windows 8 and windows 8 phone OS)
The reality is that MS has to share this kind of info and preview software in advance anyway because there are other companies out there that need to test there hardware and software on new versions of Windows before it gets released.
If MS does withhold certain features it's probably because at this point they don't know for sure that those features will be ready in time for release. This is normal in the software development world.
Looks like Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 will get some real functionality improvements!
I sure as h**l don't want nor need a Notification Center/Hub.
As far as the music/video/sync, I agree. They screwed that up big time.
I honestly just want better functionality with multitasking. I'm tired of having Win8 Apps either "shutdown" or mute when Alt-tabbed. Hopfully I'll be able to split screen both monitors. I'm not liking only being able to split the main screen, If this is the case it'll fix a lot of my issues.
Due to the locked down nature of the RT device, they may not be able to participate in the preview release and will have to wait for the final release.
Even Windows Phone 8 - if nothing is changed at the OS UI/App level, the core NT technologies should still be updated. (However it appears Microsoft is planning a full 8.1 release for WP8 as well.)
(With all the platform's code bases unified, it is barely more than a 'recompile' targeting the processor base to produce Windows (NT) on ARM, x86, x64 etc. Even WP8 is running the 'full' version of WIndows NT, not some watered down mobile version. Just because the desktop is hidden/disabled, it does not mean that the framework and APIs are actually there.)
Last sentence of this blog: http://blogs.windows.com/windows/b/bloggingwindows/archive/2013/05/14/windows-keeps-getting-better.aspx
This is what is expected of Windows 8.1 and should 'shut down' all the negative and 'less informed' arguments against Windows 8.
When Vista was released, it also was a GIANT new set of technologies and Windows 7 was able to come in and refine them to create a well loved product. (The majority of the reasons people love Windows 7 were core technologies that were first created and introduced in Vista, and resulted in the new functionality and Windows 7's highly stable and smooth nature. Ironically, even the 'trouble' areas of Vista like the new Video/Sound/Network stacks are what makes Windows 7 so crash resiliant and faster than the previous XP generation of the NT codebase.)
Now, how about giving the same care and level of attention to detail to WP8...?
I hope that the the sync features in IE11 are good, and that IE11 becomes available to win7. I really love IE10, but the lack of sync is the one feature that is still keeping me on google chrome. The ability to sync from my phone or send pages between my phone and desktop would be another amazing feature if they can fit that in the WP8.1 release!
I really hope that the new music app works. The current one can't even seem to look in my MP3 meta data and organize music by track number which makes it entirely useless for me. I like the idea of running multimedia programs in the modern UI, but until they make something that simply works from an organizational perspective then I'll just continue to use WPM. I have a large and well organized library of media, I do not care for my media player to attempt to reorganize it better because it cannot. Also, why on earth don't media players organize shows the same way that they organize music? Have a series option like a CD, and then under the series then list the individual shows! I don't want all of my shows and movies thrown together in a giant heap!
Very happy to see more customization options as well! Hopefully we can sync those options with our phones. I would love for my theme to have a common lock, background, and tile color across all devices. And if I change it on one device then it should propogate across the rest of them. It really helps with the illusion of your computer enviornment following you around.
I really hope that they do not remove the auto-pin feature for new apps! With all of the different things I do on my computer I literally have close to 200 applicaitons, programs, and utilities on my full list of apps. If there is a new program that I am trying out and I am not as fimiliar with the name then it will just get lost and burried. It is much more useful to me to have all newly installed programs pre-pinned and then I can unpin it, or sort it all on my own.