Sure we’ve seen many new feature and improvements in Windows 8.1, thanks to the so many leaks in the past months such as the return of the Start button and other small changes that piled up, but now Microsoft is officially sharing what is coming in the preview release of the next major update of Windows 8.
Microsoft says that the update is completely free of charge for current Windows 8 and Windows RT users alike.
In a new report, Microsoft emphasizes that its latest operating system is a “bold approach to computing” and indeed it is, so much that a few of the 1.4 billion users that the folks at Redmond claim they have criticised the OS. But look at the positive side of things, Microsoft is listening to all feedbacks and Windows 8.1 will address most, but not all the shortcoming of the operating system.
It’s Windows 8 even better
The new changes that the company is highlighting today include improvements on: personalization, search, built-in apps, cloud services, and the Windows Store experience. So here is what’s on the Windows 8.1 Preview (officially):
After the Windows 8 super-fast boot, the next thing you’ll notice is the Lock screen; now in Windows 8.1 a new feature will appear to use your PC or tablet as a picture frame (slide show also supported) with photos you store locally on your PC or SkyDrive. You can also take Skype calls and take pictures while the PC remains locked too.
The update formerly known as “Windows Blue” includes more background textures and colors, and, as I previously mentioned, you can now use the same desktop wallpaper in the Start screen to better aid users transitioning between the two experiences. New improvements also include the ability to better rearrange tiles, select multiple apps, change their size, or uninstall them all at once.
The Start screen has changed as well and now it has even bigger and smaller tiles sizes — something Microsoft got inspired from Windows Phone 8 –. For example, the weather app will display an image background, with up to three different cities information and up to three day forecast. Other non-Microsoft apps can take advantage of the feature too, desktop applications can generate new stylish by default tiles, and apps creators will able to build better versions.
Also now swiping from the bottom gesture will uncover a full list of installed apps with the option to sort them out by name, date installed, most used, or by category. In Windows 8.1 after installing an app from the Windows Store many users will ask where the newly installed app is? Well, Microsoft is not longer adding an app tile to Start after the installation. You’ll have to find it in “All Apps” and it’ll be marked as “New”, then you can choose to pin it to the Start screen.
Microsoft is also bringing back the Start button to Windows 8.1 and surely will make happy many users, even though the button will only be a switcher between the experiences.
In Windows 8.1, Search has a more tighter relationship with Bing, now the Microsoft’s decision engine is in charge to deliver global results (apps, files, SkyDrive and web) for each user query, resulting in a more powerful search experience. For example, search terms can now produce something called “Search Hero” (feature that replaces the Bing app) and it is simply a collection of information from the web and locally stored file. If data comes from a source that has an app installed in your system, clicking that particular piece will open the app instead of taking you to the web. This works in the same way for movies or TV shows from Hulu or Netflix, just as an example.
Windows 8 apps
Microsoft is not only updating all its built-in apps, but one big change comes with the new improved Snap view. Now when you click an URL on any app, the link opens in a 50/50 split view mode. Opening a photo from an app, for example, will split the screen 40/60 to have more space to show the image. Another interesting aspect is that apps can also have more than one window open at a time. For example, you can open two web pages in the same screen or across monitors.
Another important feature to note is that the snap views will increase with the monitor resolution, and for lower screen resolution screen, let say below 1024 x 768 pixels, Microsoft has lifted the snapping feature restriction and now apps can snap 50/50. This is on preparation of the OS for 7 and 8-inch devices coming later this year.
The same experience everywhere, using a Microsoft account all Windows 8 apps you install or pin in the Start screen, and their corresponding settings, will get synced across devices. Of course, you can always change these configurations per PC basis. Apps in Windows 8.1 also update automatically and along with a new Windows Store makes it a lot simpler to deal with apps.
A better multi-monitor support is included that let users to set the resolution of secondary monitors manually.
Windows 8.1 includes a new alarm and calculator app, but the software giant is introducing Food & Drink and Health & Fitness apps as well. Microsoft is also improving the Xbox Music app, you can now create radio stations from your favorite artists and music will stream much smoother.
Reading List is another addition to the Share charm for Windows 8.1, and essentially it is the place to save bookmarks of things you want to take care on a later time.
Finally the Camera app in “Blue” includes panoramic support with Photosynth, and there is a new Help & Tips apps to help users to get used to the new experiences.
In Windows 8.1, files by default will be saved directly into SkyDrive. (As good as this may sound, I’m sure that it’ll raise some concerns among those users who still skeptical about letting a third-party entity to store their personal files in the cloud.)
Additionally if you already have files in SkyDrive by default it won’t download every single file. Instead it will download part of it, and as you try to open the file it will download on demand the rest of it. However, an option to download all the files completely is available.
No more going to the desktop just to change a setting, all the Control Panel setting are now available in the new Windows 8.1 PC Settings. From creating a new user account to change the screen resolution, to power options, to view your PC information. All this information will be conveniently available in the new revamped PC Settings.
Internet Explorer 11
“Blue” also comes with Internet Explorer 11, which brings many improvements, faster web browsing, touch performance, and many other features. Microsoft is also saying that the new modern version of IE11 will ship with the option to always show the address bar and you’ll be able to have as many open tabs as you like, and they will sync automatically between Windows 8.1 devices.
Microsoft did take a big risk and the company recognizes that some mistakes were made, but Windows 8.1 is more than just an update, it is a feature pack upgrade set to improve the current stage of the operating system and move forward.
The first official Windows 8.1 Preview is due at the end of June and when the final product finally ships (date that we still don’t know) will be available through the Windows Store to all current Windows 8 users at no extra cost.
So, what do you think about the new changes in Windows 8.1? Are they sufficient to convince users it is worth the upgrade?