Microsoft has revealed more details about the Windows 8.1 update to Windows 8, formerly known as Windows Blue.
The new features for Windows 8.1 will be previewed at Microsoft’s Build developer conference in June and the final version will be available as a free update for Windows 8 users.
Microsoft also said in early May that there would be a preview version available before full release – we’ll get the preview during Build.
Windows 8.1 release date
The final Windows Blue release date is late 2013, while there will also be some new Windows Blue hardware.
In a post on the official Windows blog early in May, Tamy Reller, Microsoft’s chief marketing office and chief financial officer, confirmed what we already knew – the update will be available “later this year”.
Reller went on to say that the update will provide “more options for businesses, and give consumers more options for work and play”.
Reller confirmed the Windows 8.1 name during a conference call with J.P. Morgan, where plans for the operating system were discussed.
Quite how the upcoming preview release will work in practice remains to be seen, but you might not be able to install it straight into an existing Windows 8 install.
There aren’t likely to be too many massive surprises from Blue, which our writer Kate Solomon says “we feel a bit guilty for passing off as a minor Windows update” now that we’ve seen plenty of Windows Blue screenshots.
Windows Blue is actually Windows 8.1?
Windows Blue will not be the software’s official name. Shame. Instead Windows Blue is just the internal name for the software.
So speculation has turned to what the software’s actual name will be. Microsoft’s Windows Blue will officially be deemed Windows 8.1, said a new report in early April.
Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet’s All About Microsoft blog said the Windows 8.1 tip came from a reliable source and screenshots of the About Windows screen also appeared on Twitter – see below.
In stores, the update will still be called simply Windows 8, according to Foley’s source – that means Microsoft isn’t about to start naming its incremental OS refreshes like Apple does (like OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion). But it does indicate a new attitude to software updates that it’s previously called Service Packs.
One thing we definitely would say, it’s unlikely that Windows Blue will mean the merging of Windows 8 and with Windows Phone 8 into a single product.
New Windows 8 apps
As well as the operating system itself, Microsoft is apparently building some new Windows 8 apps, looking at new ways to run apps side-by-side on smaller-screened devices without needing hefty black-box-level resolution. That’s in addition to the March updates for standard Windows 8 apps.
Blue is also bringing in new Snap Views so you can share your screen 50:50 between different apps rather than the current 70:30, including across multiple monitors.
As expected, Microsoft is upping the Sky Drive integration, with some new treats like auto-camera uploads and more back-up options, as well as tab sync which will see your tabs mirrored across devices.
The grabs also reveal the inclusion of IE11 but not much detail on the next iteration of browser beyond that.
And for the personalisation fans, the grabs show a quick and easy menu of options for customising your desktop background and other design elements
Windows Blue desktop
Could Windows Blue enable users to boot straight to the desktop? Some rumours think so. You can’t boot straight to the desktop in Windows 8, though you can resume to it.
Some coden supposedly includes an option that disables the start screen so users would jump straight to the desktop layout – known as “CanSuppressStartScreen”.
Certainly there are no plans to ditch the desktop any time soon. In an interview with TechRadar, Windows Product Manager Ian Moulster was candid about the desktop’s important role in Windows.
“To be honest I don’t have an answer because I don’t know. I’m loathe to speculate. It seems highly unlikely to me. I haven’t seen anything either way. I’d be surprised, but that’s my personal view.”
“I think it’s a continuation of us always building on what’s there. Windows 8 is built on Windows 7 and starts from where Windows 7 stops, and I don’t think there will be a change to that approach. We’d be crazy to throw anything away.
“But what form that takes we’ll have to wait and see I suppose. I think we have said that we’ll be releasing updates more frequently, but precisely what that means I don’t know. There’s the apps as well, we’ve released plenty of updates to our apps.”
Windows Blue sync
Further Windows development
According to a February 15 job posting on the Microsoft Careers site, the software giant is seeking an engineer to join its Windows Core Experience Team.
That part of the operation will be working on improving the centrepiece of the new Windows UI, including the start screen, application lifecycle, windowing and personalisation, according to the post.
This seems to suggest that Windows Blue will bring more than a few tweaks under the bonnet and offer tangible visual enhancements to the Windows 8 software.
Indeed, the post mentions Windows Blue by name and says the updates will look to “build on and improve Windows 8″ as time goes on.
An excerpt reads: “We’re looking for an excellent, experienced SDET to join the Core Experience team in Windows Sustained Engineering (WinSE). The Core Experience features are the centerpiece of the new Windows UI, representing most of what customers touch and see in the OS, including: the start screen; application lifecycle; windowing; and personalization.Windows Blue promises to build and improve upon these aspects of the OS, enhancing ease of use and the overall user experience on devices and PCs worldwide.”
Windows Blue will extend to other platforms
It is also thought that Windows Blue updates will be extended to multiple Microsoft platforms, including Windows server, the mobile OS Windows Phone 8 and applications like SkyDrive and Outlook.com.
Indeed, another post on Microsoft’s job site mentions Windows Phone Blue by name, so that is definitely on the horizon.
The plan from Microsoft’s point of view is reportedly to move towards a more regular update pace, rather than the three year gap that separated Windows 7 and Windows 8, with little improvements in between.
Apple has enjoyed great success in this arena, gradually adding new strings to the bow of Mac OS X every year, through its feline-themed updates.