Windows 8.1 ‘Blue’ – What we know so far

Windows 8.1 ‘Blue’ – What we know so far
Editor at TechForge Media. Often sighted at global tech conferences with a coffee in one hand and laptop in the other. If it's geeky, I'm probably into it.

Microsoft’s latest Windows OS launched to a lot of criticisms, many of which both developers and consumers alike are hoping to see resolved in the first major “Blue” update, so let’s take a look at what we know so far.

The final update is likely to be released at Build 2013 in June, but four leaked builds have made their way online already giving us a glimpse at what to expect.

Build “9364”

  • New ‘Snap Views’ – Allow up to four apps side-by-side for increased multitasking, up from the current limit of two (with one previously limited to a 25% portion of screen.)
  • Run individual Windows 8 apps on multiple monitors.
  • Smaller ‘Live Tiles’ – Much like the feature brought alongside Windows Phone 8, you can now reduce the size of your start menu tiles (and thus information displayed) for less clutter / more customisability.
  • More settings in “Modern UI” – Reduces need to switch back to the ‘Desktop’ for increased control over your system.
  • Screenshot Share – The ‘Charms’ share option now features ability to post an image of your current screen to another application (without having to manually “Print Screen”)
  • Increased stock apps – New Alarms app, Sound Recorder, and even a ‘Windows Movie Maker’ replacement (now called “Movie Moments”) is also featured.

Build “9369”

  • Select ‘Snap View’ – Further improvements to the multitasking allows user to select which view (and where it should be placed) when more than two apps are snapped, with the app “hovering” in a minimised view until area is selected.
  • ‘Files’ App – Further reducing need to switch back to the “Desktop” by providing a file explorer to manage your system whilst providing further SkyDrive integration.
  • Improved ‘Search’ – Searching from the “Charms” menu now also provides results from the web, increasing productivity.
  • Lockscreen Camera – Users can “drag down” on the Lockscreen to access the camera (where available) to quickly start taking photos.
  • ReFS support – The new file system (built on NTFS for compatibility) looks to be included with this build, previously only available in Windows Server 8.

Build “9374”

  • ‘Kiosk Mode’ – Primary implementation appears to be for business or “embedded terminals” with function of locking the active user to a single application.

Build “9385”

  • ‘Kiosk Mode’ renamed to ‘Assigned Access’.
  • Ability to display an app as an ‘Alarm’ on the lockscreen.

It appears Microsoft is taking on-board many complaints around the initial release and taking steps with each build to satisfy critics.

The majority of users will prefer having a “Modern UI” file manager and improved settings, reducing the need of consistently switching to the Desktop interface. On a similar note, a “boot to Desktop” option has yet to make an appearance but is rumoured to make the final release.

As for what improvements have been made specifically for developers; apps for Windows 8 are generally more versatile than before, with the ability to be placed on multiple monitors, more customisable tiles, and also feature the ability to take advantage of updated “Snap Views”.

The new ReFS support will help prevent corruption, include “data striping” support for increased performance, and use an allocate on write model known as “copy-on-write” to enable quick snapshots of large data sets.

Microsoft appears to be looking at a late June release for Windows Blue, and will likely be free for all current Windows 8 users according to information given by head of Windows engineering, Julie Larson-Green.

Is Microsoft moving in the right direction to satisfy developers and users alike? Disclaimer: Keep in mind these are unstable, leaked builds and features may be added / removed by release.

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