Windows Blue: In-depth overview on the new features and changes for Windows 8

Windows Blue Start screen

Microsoft is pushing to make the upcoming Windows 8 upgrade, Windows Blue, yet another radical change to its operating system, which in many ways will make multitasking with modern apps a lot easier and it will bring many needed fixes and a few new apps. Aside from the new changes Windows Blue will conserve pretty much every look and feel already in Windows 8.

Also it will include various UI design updates that gives users more control over the background and accent colors, as well as new general personalization settings (Change PC settings), and many new enhancements under-the-hood, like a new version of the Windows NT kernel (v6.3) that will also make the operating system boot faster, and a far more improved power management.

As you previously read, an early version of Windows Blue (build 9364) has leaked online, apparently from a Microsoft French partner, and luckily for us, now we have more details surfacing about some of the changes coming in Blue:

Windows Blue installation

Let’s start by noting that the installation process of Blue hasn’t change almost in any way compare to the Windows 8 installation. All the steps are practically the same with the exception that now you can choose any accent and background colors from the setup too.

Win Blue personalization

Start screen

One of the first things users will notice is the new design updates in the Start screen. With Blue, Start supports a total of four different live tile sizes. Using the new smaller live tiles size will make the Start screen look like very similar to the Windows Phone 8 home screen, and using the new extra-large tile size will make the experience look like the Windows Store interface, of course that not all the live tiles support the extra-large size (so far the Desktop tile is the only one).

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Personalize

Likewise, Microsoft has updated the Personalize settings and options. Now users will be able to choose virtually any background and accent colors — and if the user doesn’t like the new changes, there is a revert option (Previously used colors) when the settings menu is invoke (i.e., Windows 8 Key +I).

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Transition effects

Now when you do a search or you’re simply viewing a list of all your apps, you’ll be able to sort them “by Name” or “by Date installed”. Also there are new transitions effects such as while in All apps, you can swipe from the top toward the bottom to go back to the Start screen — if you’re not using a touch-enabled device by hitting the WinKey will also show the new effect.

New Apps

Windows Blue, will include four additional Windows 8-style apps by default: Alarms, Calculate, Sound Recorder and Movie Moments — the name of the apps are self-explanatory, so I won’t go deep into them.

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It’s also worth noting that it seems that users may not longer be able to just grab a tile and move it to a new place. Moving forward, the user will have to select the live tile, click Customize from the app commands, and then move the tile to the new desired location.

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Snap view

Perhaps one of the most interesting features is the improved Snap view in Windows 8 for modern apps. For those who aren’t familiar with the feature, it simply allows to snap apps side-by-side without having to switch between them. But unlike how Snap view works in Windows 8 (70 / 30), now the split will be 50 / 50.

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Microsoft is also reducing the Snap view requirements for Blue, now you’ll only need a screen resolution of 1024 x 768, instead of the 1366 x 768 required in Windows 8.

Moreover, another interesting secret in Windows Blue is that starting at a screen resolution of 1680 x 1050 users will be able to use Snap view with up to 3 app in the same screen — but many users are reporting up 4 apps per screen.

blue 3 apps snap view

PC settings

Microsoft will also introduce a new PC settings page, which it seems will bring most of the Control Panel settings to this experience. In Windows Blue, PC settings has been completely reorganized, with new items, groups and set of options.

Win8 vs windows blue

Here are all the new changes for PC settings:

Home: displays the links to the most frequent locations where you have changed settings.

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Lock screen: Here you can change background image, set the Lock screen as a “Picture Frame”, choose what apps will show notifications, and there is also the “Lock Screen Camera” to enable camera access on the lock screen.

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Screen: In this section, you can control “Power & Sleep”, which basically allows you configure when the screen should turn-off and when the system should go to the sleep state. This is in addition to control the “Display” resolution, and “Touch feedback”.

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Accounts: This is the place to change the “Sign-in options” such as account password, configure a picture password and to create a PIN. Change “Account Picture”, “Sync” and to change or create a new user account.

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SkyDrive: This services seems to be very integrated with Windows Blue. In the new update the Microsoft online storage service has its own section in the PC settings, where users can view “Storage use” and to configure “Device backups” and “Files”.

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Privacy: is the section to allow apps to access certain information, location and other peripherals (e.g., webcam and microphone).

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Devices: In this page, users will be able to learn “PC info”, change “Device settings”, control “Radio Devices”, “Add/Remove devices” and configure “AutoPlay”.

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Network: This section will make really easy to view “Connections” or create a VPN connection, connect to a “HomeGroup”, configure “Proxy” or connect the device to a “Workplace”.

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Apps: This is a brand new section where users can control “Notifications”, and in “App sizes” users will be able to review how much local storage each app is consuming and ultimately uninstall them. As well as to configure “Search”, “Share”, “Defaults” and “Switching” options.

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Time & language: This is pretty much self-explanatory, but it is new to the list, so I decided to mentioned it as well.

Update & Recovery: is the new place to check and install Windows updates, and to get access to the Recovery features in Windows 8 (Refresh, Remove everything and Advanced startup).

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These are most of the new changes you’ll find in the new reorganized PC settings page. As you can probably notice, Microsoft has moved to a sub-listing model, meaning that when you click or tap one of the items you will find, in most cases, another set of items with its corresponding options.

Note: One really important thing to note here is that Blue is a work in progress and it’s buggy, so it is not ready to be a primary desktop operating system just yet, and even more importantly these new settings and features may change in the final product.

Other changes

There are also other things that didn’t change much or did not change at all. For example, for those users hoping that Microsoft will change the location of the Power button, they are out of luck because that did not happen. Users will still have to use the 3-step procedure (Windows 8 Key +I, click the Power button and choose the action: shutdown, restart or sleep).

The user account name and menu continues in the top-right corner of the screen, and boot straight to the Start screen still the default behaviour.

Windows Blue Desktop

The Windows Desktop also has a few changes, such as now in Computer there is a new section on top of the “Hard Disk Drives” called “Folders” and by default lists four location (My Documents, My Music, My Pictures and My Videos).

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Also it seems that Microsoft got finally rid off the “Windows 7 File Recovery Feature” which allowed users to create a system image. Now instead users will have to use the new Recovery features.

New features and changes are always welcome, as long as they improve productivity and the user experience  — it’s like getting more bang for your buck –. But in this case also means that users will have to learn and relearn a few new things. And sadly for those who bought a paperback Windows 8 book, they will able to learn some, but not all of the new aspects of the operating system.

What I covered here are some of the changes that are present today in Windows Blue, but like I mentioned earlier: This product isn’t finished, so features and UI elements are subject to change. As new changes become public, I will continue with the updates.