Antoine Leblond, Corporate Vice President of Windows Program Management, wrote a lengthy blog on Thursday that provides a "first look" at Windows 8.1 although we've seen plenty in reports stemming from leaked builds over the last several months. The OS update will deliver improvements and enhancements in key areas, he states, like personalization, search, the built-in apps, Windows Store experience, and cloud connectivity. It will also include "big bets" for business in areas such as management and security.
"We’re only a bit more than seven months into this new, bold approach to computing," he says. "The response to Windows 8 has been substantial— from new devices to strong app growth to key enhancements to the OS and apps. We’ve learned from customers in how they are using the product and have received a lot of feedback. We’ve delivered hundreds of updates to the product and to apps. We’re just getting started, and the potential ahead is tremendous."
The new update will allow users to turn their PC or tablet into a picture frame by making their Lock screen a slide show of pictures stored locally or in the cloud via SkyDrive. Users can also take pictures with the built-in camera right from the lock screen without having to log in.
As for the Start screen, Windows 8.1 will provide more colors, backgrounds, and motion-based wallpapers. Users can also assign their current desktop wallpaper to the Start screen as well, providing the user a sense of unity between the two interfaces. As previously reported, more tile sizes are on the way – large and small ones – so users can organize the Start screen exactly the way they want it.
"It’s also even easier to name groups and rearrange tiles," he says. "You can now select multiple apps all at once, resize them, uninstall them, or rearrange them. We also found people were accidentally moving tiles on their Start screen so in Windows 8.1, you press and hold (or right click) to move things around."
Windows 8.1 also brings the ability to view all apps by swiping from the bottom, and to filter apps by name, date installed, most used, or by category. New apps won't automatically appear on the Start screen either, but will instead be shoved into the "view all apps" mode and marked as "new".
He goes on to talk about the Search charm which will provide global search results powered by Bing, and improvements to the built-in apps such as the Photos app which will sport new editing features, and a completely redesigned Music app. Users will also be able to share the screen between two apps, or have up to three apps on each screen if multiple displays are connected. Users can even have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time while the Start Screen stays open on one monitor.
The blog also talks about an improved Windows Store, improved cloud connectivity, better mouse and keyboard options, the addition of Internet Explorer 11, and an updated PC Settings that grants access to all the device settings without having to dive into the platform's Control Panel. That's fine and dandy, but what about that missing Start button? That's making a return, but not in its original pre-Windows 8 form.
"We’ve improved the way you navigate to Start with the mouse by changing the Start 'tip' to be the familiar Windows logo," he said. "The new tip appears anytime you move the mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen, and is always visible on the taskbar when on the desktop. There are also options to change what the corners do, and options to boot into alternate screens. For example, if you prefer to see the Apps view versus all the tiles, you can choose to have the Start screen go directly to Apps view."
These are just some of the changes arriving with Windows 8.1. More will be revealed in additional blogs in the coming weeks.