SAN FRANCISCO – The free update for Windows 8 code-named Blue was released in preview mode at the Build conference.
Julie Larson-Green corporate vice president for the Windows unit at Microsoft said the company has made Windows 8.1 more responsive by adding gesture controls. For example, a user can slide their finger across the space bar to view search engine suggestions and tap for the desired result. This maybe a small new wrinkle in the OS, but she says it will eliminate you from having to raise your finger to the search box making it more responsive.
The finger swipe will become more in use in Windows 8.1 as it can drag pages east and west and north and south. The Power Pane feature will filter everything for the user in a glance such as social media, people.
The sweep command will make email deletion a lot faster. Sweep enables a user to delete all emails with a common theme for example emails for coupons. It can also delete all except for the latest one.
Larson-Green also showed a way for users to view numbers and letters on the on-screen keyboard in Windows 8.1 and photo editing is now available right on the photo. Larson-Green showed the audience at Build a way to change a photo’s saturation with her finger.
You can say goodbye to the Control Panel as the updated PC settings in Windows 8.1 gives you access to all settings without going to the Control Panel. Users can change display resolution, set power options, change the product key, along with the ability to manage SkyDrive.
One of the many areas of concern with Windows 8 was that it may be touch-friendly but it wasn’t mouse-friendly. Microsoft has addressed this by changing the Start button to be the familiar the Windows logo. The new icon appears anytime a person operates the mouse and from any corner of the screen.
Larson-Green added that there will be an option for the Windows desktop with 8.1. “We want to bring the modern world and the desktop world together. You can bring in the Start screen and the tiles float. From there you can get into all programs or make the default view all of your apps. With this you are able to see four times more apps than what you could with the Start menu,” Larson-Green said.
She added that screen real-estate will be optimized in 8.1 where a user can view three screens and compose an email, while reading another at the same time.
The Start Screen
The Start screen in 8.1 will have all kinds of apps with tiles that can re-sized to the users preference. Windows 8.1 has two new tile sizes: large and small. And, this was done to accommodate the many form factors of ultrabooks, tablets, hybrids and All-in-One computers. Larson-Green also showed how to move content such as a movie from a small tablet to a big flat screen TV because they will be all synced to devices across the environment whether it’s a home or an office.
The Start screen will be able to customize, apps, and files. New apps can be pinned to the Start screen, while also being a slideshow if desired. Normally make a photo the Lock screen, in Windows 8.1 you can do that with a series of photos that are stored locally or on SkyDrive. And, now all your files can be directly saved to the SkyDrive.
There is also a built-in camera app from the Lock screen.
A litany of colours has been added to 8.1 for backgrounds for the Start screen that will include ones with motion.
Bing will play a big part in Windows 8.1. The search engine will provide results in an aggregated view based on sources such as the Web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions previously taken by the user.
Microsoft has also revamped the Windows Store in Windows 8.1. The new store look will have more information with detailed lists of top free apps, new releases, and picks for you on the homepage. The app listing is more descriptive and categories are now listed with other app commands such as links to current apps and account information. App updates install automatically in the background.
The Canadian-born Antoine LeBlond, senior vice president at Microsoft, said app developers will also be able to cross-promote their products right inside the Windows Store.
The Windows Store will also feel like a real brick-and-mortar store by having gift cards, he added.
LeBlond also showed how Windows 8.1 natively supports 3D printing. “It will be as seamless as 2D printing. Just tap the print area, select 3D and it send the data to the printer,” he said.
The Microsoft Store will soon have 3D printers for sale, LeBlond said.