Thursday, May 30, 2013

Updated: Windows 8.1 release date, news and rumors

Updated: Windows 8.1 release date, news and rumors

Updated: Windows 8.1 release date, news and rumors

Microsoft continues to reveal details about the update to Windows 8, now known as Windows 8.1 and formerly known as Windows Blue.

The Windows 8.1 features will be shown off at the Microsoft Build developer conference in June and the final version will be available as a free dowloadable Windows 8 update.

Microsoft also said in early May that there would be a preview version available before full release which we'll surely get at 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", and certainly by Christmas.

Reller went on to say that the update will provide "more options for businesses, and give consumers more options for work and play". Microsoft now has more than 70,000 Metro/Windows 8-style apps in the Windoes Store.

Reller later confirmed the Windows 8.1 name during a conference call with J.P. Morgan, where plans for the operating system were discussed.

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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.

If you happen to be one of the small number of users who have a Windows RT device like Surface RT, we're sure you'll be thrilled to know that the Windows 8.1 update will also be coming to your device.

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

Windows Blue is actually Windows 8.1

Windows Blue, we now know for sure that Windows Blue will not be the software's official name. Shame. Instead Windows Blue is just the internal name for the software.

Windows Blue will officia lly be deemed Windows 8.1, first revealed in early April. Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet's All About Microsoft blog said the original 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 - 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 the type of software updates that it has 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.

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 Start menu

There has been a lot of speculation over whether Windows 8.1 will actually introduce a Start Button and on May 30 we saw a preview of what the brand new button will look like, thanks to Paul Thurrott at Windows SuperSite.

However, we'd like to point out a big caveat with this screenshot - the new button shown by Thurrott looks awfully like Stardock's Start button replacement tool Start8 . Will we actually get a Start button in Windows 8.1?

Windows 8 start button

Credit: Windows SuperSite

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.

Windows Blue

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 B lue 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

It seems that more features will be synchronized between PCs and your user account with Windows Blue. It looks like this will extend to the Start screen as well as device associations and Internet Explorer tabs.

Further Windows development

According to a February 15 job posting on the Microsoft Careers site, the software giant is s eeking 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

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.

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