This morning, Microsoft detailed many of the new features we're going to see in Windows 8.1 later this year. Those include the much-rumoured partial return of the classic Start button, changes to the way apps can be displayed and integration of Bing into the Search charm.
One of the more interesting (and widely anticipated) developments is that, yes, the Start button is coming back...sort of, as the blog post from Microsoft detailing the changes confirms:
PCs today are evolving for a world of mobile computing where people interact with their devices through touch, and we designed Windows 8 for this. But we also recognise there are many non-touch devices in use today -- especially in the commercial setting. As such we've focused on a number of improvements to ensure easier navigation for people using a mouse and keyboard.
We've improved the way you navigate to Start with the mouse by changing the Start "tip" to be the familiar Windows logo. 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.
Note that a Start button which launches to the Windows 8 screen is not the same as a full-blown Start menu. If you want that, you'll need to use one of the many Start menu alternatives -- an option which has existed for as long as Windows 8 itself has been a commercial product.
While most of the reporting on this issue is likely to focus on the return of the Start button (Start link would be a better description), there are several other changes that are arguably more noteworthy. In particular, there's going to be a switch to the way Search works:
In Windows 8.1, the Search charm will provide global search results powered by Bing in a rich, simple-to-read, aggregated view of many content sources (the web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions you can take) to provide the best "answer" for your query. We think this will really change the way you interact with the Web and with windows making it quicker and easier to get things done. It is the modern version of the command line! Quick actions include things you would want to do like play a song or video. Results from local files, apps, and settings are easily accessed in the same convenient view by scrolling to the left.
Windows 8 search is impressively fast; we hope this switch doesn't make it slower for accessing local resources. Needing to scroll to see file results sounds like a nuisance, but we won't know for sure until we see it in action. Bing itself does a fairly ordinary job on web search, especially for Australian users, so the usefulness of the extension to web results is debatable, though it's not a surprising development.
The other major change that stands out for us is that apps can now be snapped to different sizes, rather than taking up a fixed-width column on the left or right of the screen.
Windows 8.1 brings variable, continuous size of snap views. You will have more ways to see multiple apps on the screen at the same time. You can resize apps to any size you want, share the screen between two apps, or have up to three apps on each screen if you have multiple displays connected, you can have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time and the Start Screen can stay open on one monitor. This makes multi-tasking even easier. Also in Windows 8.1, you can have multiple windows of the same app snapped together – such as two Internet Explorer windows.
For people who like to display multiple windows, this is a welcome development.
Other changes, briefly:
- Swiping from the bottom now displays all installed apps, and newly-added apps are available in a separate group (a welcome improvement on the haphazard addition of new apps to the Start screen in Windows 8)
- You can customise your lock screen to as a slide show.
- You can set your Start screen background to match your desktop.
- Files can now be saved directly to SkyDrive in Windows 8 apps.
- The built-in Photos and Music apps are being updated.
- IE11 will ship as part of the update -- good for touch device users, but less interesting for those of us who prefer another browser.
As we already knew, Windows 8.1 will be a free update from the Windows Store, and a preview build will be released at the Build conference on 26 June. The post also confirms that new security and enterprise features for Windows 8.1 will be detailed at TechEd North America next week. We're attending that event, so we'll be sure to bring you the updates from there.
Continuing the Windows 8 Vision with Windows 8.1 [Blogging Windows]