Build 2013 Live Blog: All The Windows 8.1 News

We already know many of the key features in Windows 8.1, but Microsoft’s Build developer conference in San Francisco is where the software makes its official debut. The keynote for build kicked off at 2am Thursday 27 July Australian time, and we caught it all, from the new 3D printing feature to the belated admission that the Windows Store really needs a search dialogue. It’s all here, live as it happened.

[01:55] Morning everyone! Let’s get this show on the road. It’s a packed room. We may already know the key features of Windows 8.1, but people still want to see it in action. We can also expect lots of developer-centric news, and discussion of Visual Studio 2013.

[02:00] “We’re going to begin shortly.” I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Microsoft keynote that started exactly on time.

[02:07] And we’re off! First up, CEO Steve Ballmer. 6000 people attending.

[02:09] Today we get “a lot of Windows, a lot of Windows Phone, a lot of Windows Azure.” Sorry Xbox and Office 365 fans.

[02:10] “The #1 thing I’m excited about is to welcome you back to a Build conference so quickly after the last one . . . It’s about the rapid pace of innovation. It’s about the transformation we are going through as a company to go to an absolutely rapid release cycle. Rapid release, rapid release.”

[02:11] “We’re certainly going to show you Windows 8.1 today, but you can think about that as the new norm.” Good news for developers, not so good for system managers.

[02:12] Ballmer tells everyone to download Windows 8.1 Preview and Visual Studio 213.

[02:12] Ballmer reminds us Windows 8 only came out late last year.

[02:13] Showing off the Nokia 928 and 925. Nice, but not new. “The software to my mind is beautiful.” Again stressing the unified interface. Also gives a shout-out to the 521, which sells (outside the first world) for around $150 outright.

[02:14] Sprint will be selling Windows Phone devices. My personal care factor is low, obviously.

[02:16] “The Windows device of today doesn’t look a lot like the PC of five years ago. Since we launched Windows 8 and we turned on the switch with our hardware partners, we’ve been seeing an explosion in the range of new devices. For the first time today, we’ll spend some time showing some small tablets.”

[02:17] Everyone there gets an Acer Iconia. Damn. It’s “flying off the shelves”, apparently. Needs a lot of background work.

[02:18] “When we brought out Windows 8, we talked about touch touch touch touch touch. Yet most new machines didn’t have touch.” That’s changing. “Touch is incredibly valuable in traditional PC form factors.” We’ll have to disagree there, Steve.

[02:20] “Customers who have Windows 8 on touch systems are much happier than other Windows 8 users, and even than Windows 7 users.” That’ll be because keyboard and mouse are second-class citizens. So don’t act surprised, Steve.

[02:21] Steve has been using the Lenovo Helix. “I find that I get at least a full day of work in terms of battery life.” “Should we call that a PC? Should we call that a tablet? I think we should call it all Windows, all the time.”

[02:22] 2-in-1s are what “all our developers at Microsoft will want.”

[02:23] Third area to highlight after phones and PCs is applications. In the seven months since launch, “the number of applications we see coming into the store is phenomenal. Developers are doing really great work for Windows 8.” Coming soon: Flipboard.

[02:24] Also coming soon: Facebook for Windows 8. And the NFL Fantasy Football (yawn, but predictable after the Xbox One launch).

[02:25] “Within this month, I think we’ll past the 100,000 mark in the Windows Store.” But also still all the existing Windows apps. Unless you’re running RT, of course.

[02:26] Instrumentation data shows 2-3 million Windows apps used. Which means, of course, most aren’t Modern, but they remain “essential to the way we get stuff done every day. They will continue to be the basis and the evolution of our productivity. The importance of those desktop applications was never more reinforced to us than in the course of the last six months. We pushed boldly in Windows 8 and yet what we found was that we got a lot of feedback from users of desktop apps that said ‘Why don’t you refine the blend here’?

[02:27] So it’s the Start button apology. But “refined blend” is the new term we’ll be hearing. A lot, I suspect. “We bring back the Start button.” Huge cheers! “If you want to boot to the desktop, you can boot to the desktop. We have nonetheless enriched the Start screen and start menu but you can see all the applications you use everyday at a simple and quick glance.” Also more multitasking options, better multiple monitors — all stuff we already knew.

[02:29] Last big thing to highlight: the Bing integration. Which makes me nervous.

[02:29] “We have consistently improved the experience to the point where today in the US we win blind taste tests if you compare results between Bing and Google.” Would not happen in Oz, I suspect.

[02:30] “The time has come to use Bing in new ways. With Windows 8.1, Bing is inside. Our shell experience is powered by Bing, and we’re opening up Bing as a development platform.”

[02:31] Julie Larson-Green, CVP for Windows Engineering, on stage to show Windows 8.1.

[02:32] Have already been more than 800 updates to Windows pre Windows 8.1.

[02:33] Windows 8.1 uses gestures, so you can select suggestions by swiping on the space bar. That’s clever. Also keypad gestures to get numbers, so you don’t have to change keyboards. Similar for punctuation.

[02:36] Now Mail improvements, though these aren’t in the Preview build. Most of these features come from, including automatic sweeping of newsletters and setting favourite people.

[02:27] Now Bing integration. You can drill down into search results, or play music directly via Xbox Music. The Music app has been updated so you can share a site via charms and automatically create a playlist.

[02:40] “Pretty soon everything will be Touch.” Oh do give it a rest.

[02:41] You can now access Skype or camera apps from the lockscreen without having to log in.

[02:42] More features we know: personalise the Start screen. And being able to swipe up and down for All apps. You can filter by date and name.

[02:44] Now talking SkyDrive. Picture editing tools in Windows 8.1 have been enhanced.

[02:45] “Every app in the box is either new or refined.” A new option: Food & Drink, which is a cooking app. Wonder if it has metric?

[02:46] Very cool: using the camera in hands-free mode to scroll the screen so you don’t cover it with flour. Can also push video to other devices.

[02:47] Now we’re seeing the new Desktop.”Much less jarring.” You can see four times as many apps in desktop all apps than in Modern mode. Links can automatically launch in a snapped browser, you can right-click and have more than two things open at once, and resize as you wish. Plus multi-monitor.

[02:48] Now a preview of PowerPoint Alpha for RT. Though all we really see initially is viewing a presentation.

[02:52] Now Antoine Leblond is talking under-the-hood improvements.

[02:53] “In 8.1 there are more than 5000 new APIs to take advantage of.” First, a Visual Studio 2013 preview, which (as we’ve been told) is available today.

[02:54] Visual Studio can now produce reports showing how your app uses power — very handy for mobile-centric development in particular.

[02:55] Now talking improvements in debugging async code, which is definitely tricky. VS 2013 keeps the entire async call context, rather than losing it mid-stream.

[02:56] Showing off a wizard to add push notifications for Azure.

[03:00] Windows 8.1 is adding support for WebGL and MPEG Dash. Antoine shows off multiple web view controls, including streaming media.

[03:03] There will be “better promotion via Bing” for Store apps. No more update counts for Store apps. All apps now update automatically.

[03:04] HA! There is now a search dialog inside the Store. I always said it was stupid to force people to use the Search charm to do that.

[03:05] Store now shows other apps from the same developer, as well as related apps.

[03:06] “Navigation in the store is much easier.”

[03:07] In Windows 8.1, each screen can have its own scaling factor, so when you switch between different resolution monitors, they adjust automatically. Good one.

[03:08] Improvements in DirectX, including Tiled Resources, which give you a programmable hardware page table for graphics memory — lets you swap data into your graphics card for more intensive processing without overloading its memory.

[03:11] Windows 8.1 has native support for 3D printing. Interesting.

[03:13] Now we’re looking at a Mindstorms Robot controlled by Windows 8.1. Sending a live video feed to the robot via Wi-Fi.

[03:15] Now we’re checking out new hardware, including the Samsung Ativ, the Lenovo Helix and the Acer Aspire.

[03:21] All the attendees get a Surface Pro. Makes the TechEd bargains look a bit less special.

[03:23] The inevitable breakage in the live stream. Judging by Twitter, Bing features are being shown off.

[03:26] We seem to be back, showing off Bing integration features for devs. But the livestream is still very flaky, so apologies if we’re a bit less detailed.

[03:30] 3D Bing Map browsing controls can be embedded in applications.

[03:33] There’s also access to an OCR control for scanning, and automatic translation features. The big question, of course, is what developers will have to pay to access these options.

[03:36] And now a Bing promo video. And then Steve is back, presumably to wrap up. Tomorrow’s keynote will cover Azure and Office 365 and Visual Studio 2013.

[03:40] Oh, just one more demonstration. Project Spark, the game dev environment, which got talked up a lot at E3. Here’s Dave McCarthy from MS Games.

[03:41] Runs across Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Windows 8. I would like to play with this.

[03:44] Showing off how to alter a game from working with a controller to working with touch, while also changing the AI.

[03:48] Project Spark demo video. Steve returns, and says “rapid release” yet again. And then, inevitably, “Windows Windows Windows”. “Some of the form factors that have been most important in Windows will see an interesting transition.” Which is code for “Wow, those PC sales are falling off a cliff, aren’t they?”

[03:49] “I want to end with one thought: the future of Windows is very, very bright.” My thought? More coffee, please.


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