With the preview version of Windows 8.1 to be available for public download on 26 June, Microsoft has pre-empted its Build conference in announcing some of the key new features the operating system update will bring to the table.
The update formerly known as Windows Blue has partly been created using feedback from Windows 8 users, so many changes and new features reflect genuine customers' wants and desires.
One of those is greater personalisation, including the ability to make the Lock screen into a slide show for pictures, for those stored either locally or in the cloud via SkyDrive. For Microsoft Surface and other Windows 8 tablet users, 8.1 also adds the ability to take photos from the Lock screen, without having to enter the full OS.
The Start screen has been improved, with new colour schemes and backgrounds, including some with motion. And you can even use your desktop background for the Start screen, to add a "greater sense of unity and familiarity".
New tile sizes have also been introduced, with larger and smaller tiles to add to the two sizes already available on Windows 8. You can now also choose multiple apps at once, to resize or move them. And you can even uninstall more than one app at a time.
Microsoft has also slightly altered the system to move tiles after many users complained that they accidentally moved them. You now have to press and hold them (or right click) to move them around.
App filtering has been introduced, to sort them by name, date installed, most used or by category. And tablet users can view all apps just by swiping upwards from the bottom of the Start screen.
Search has been refined. Now Bing searches will provide results in a content-rich aggregated view taken from numerous sources, including local apps, files and SkyDrive, as well as the web.
The built-in apps that came with Windows 8 have been improved. The photos app, for example, gaining new editing features. And the Music app has been completely redesigned.
Multiple apps will be able to be viewed and used on the same screen, with the ability added to resize them to different snap views. You can share two apps on the same screen at the same time, or three apps per screen if multiple displays are connected.
The Windows Store has been improved, with more details about apps and app updates downloaded and installed automatically.
Cloud connectivity has been focused on in Windows 8.1, with SkyDrive interaction being even more key than before. Files can be saved directly to SkyDrive, and the new SkyDrive app will list all files whether they are on your device or in the cloud. Offline access is also available.
Your Microsoft account will also remember all of your settings, so if you have to reinstall on a PC or swap tablets, you get all of your personalised set-up transferred across automatically.
PC users will also get their settings from the desktop now, without having to navigate through to Control Panel. You can change your display resolution, set power options, see the make and model of your PC, change the product key, perform a Windows update, and join a domain from the PC Settings. SkyDrive is also manageable through PC Settings.
Internet Explorer 11 comes as part of the Windows 8.1 installation. The new IE11 brings many features, with Microsoft set to detail them more thoroughly at a later date, but it promises faster load times, the ability to adjust the appearance to always show the address bar, and allows you to have as many open tabs as you like. Tablet users will get better touch controls. And open tabs will be remembered so you can continue browsing across different devices.
The final features revealed for now focus on mouse and keyboard use. While Windows 8.1 is very touch-friendly, Microsoft has improved the interactivity for general PCs, including the return of the Start button. Sort of.
Now, a Windows logo appears on the taskbar which will expand to the Start screen just by hovering over it. There is also the ability to change what the corners do on the desktop.
More will be revealed in the build up to the public preview going live on 26 June, most notably at Microsoft's Build conference, but just from these details so far, Windows 8.1 is shaping up to be more than a mere update patch. The full release version will be coming later this year.
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