Microsoft will add a huge array of new features designed to let users customize their devices with Windows 8.1, the company’s upcoming update for devices running Windows 8.
The features, which were detailed today on Blogging Windows¸ encompass practically the entire user experience of Windows 8 and seem to be designed to aim right at the issues that users have voiced concerns about since the operating system debuted last fall.
For starters, Microsoft has now confirmed that the Start button will be returning in Windows 8.1, finally ending months of speculation that it would restore the button to its position on the taskbar. Microsoft seems to have removed the Start button in Windows 8 to encourage users to make use of the operating system’s hot corners and every device’s hardware Windows key.
Notably, the company will not be restoring the Start menu as it was in Windows 7. Instead the company will still require users to see the new Start screen, though they will have the option to forgo the screen’s Live Tile view and opt for just a list of their applications.
Microsoft will also address the lack of personalization in Windows 8 with this update as well. Users will be able to create slideshows that appear on their device’s lock screen. As rumored earlier this week, Microsoft will allow users to specify a background for their Start Screen and Desktop, which the company thinks will create a “greater sense of unity” for both environments. It’ll also introduce many tweaks designed to make Windows 8.1 easier for use with a mouse and keyboard.
Live Tiles will get two more sizes: a double size tile and a smaller size that only shows the app’s icon. It’s also introducing some changes to the way users categorize and resize those tiles.
Microsoft will introduce huge changes to the way the Search Charm, the operating systems universal search system, works. For starters this feature will now be able to search the files that are stored on a user’s SkyDrive cloud storage area.
It will completely integrate Bing search into the search charm as well, negating the use for a native Bing application and positioning its search engine against rivals. The move isn’t totally unheard of for Microsoft, it previously did the same thing with Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 7.
SkyDrive will get a boost from direct integration into Windows 8.1. Users will no longer need to install the desktop version of the SkyDrive application, instead Microsoft seems to have built syncing into the operating system, and users will be able manage how much SkyDrive storage they have or purchase more from the Settings area. On the topic of settings, Microsoft has moved more settings into the settings area so that users will have even less reasons to use the Desktop area’s Control Panel.
The company didn’t share many screenshots of any of the new applications it plans to make available in Windows 8, however Movie Moments, a video editing tool, has already leaked. Microsoft did mention that it plans to release a completely redesigned Music application, a new Windows Store and a Photo app with editing tools. Microsoft says it will reveal more about them in posts down the road.
Other features will include:
- Application updates will now install themselves in the background of Windows 8.1, though the operating system will still alert users to their presence.
- Internet Explorer 11 will be included in the operating system and allow users to open more than one Internet Explorer instance at a time, allowing for better multitasking.
- Users will be able to use Snap to split the applications they are working on to their heart’s desire. Currently, the Snap feature forces users to have one application take up 70% of the screen while a second application takes up the rest.
- Users will be able to have the Start Screen stay on one monitor while applications work on another. Users will also be able to open Metro-style applications on up to three monitors at one time.
- Users can now take pictures with Windows devices directly from that device’s lock screen.
Microsoft says it will have more to talk about during next week’s TechEd North America conference. The company has already announced that it will make Windows 8.1 available to users sometime later in the year. A public preview of the update will be made available to users during Microsoft’s BUILD conference, which starts June 26th.
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