By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated May 30, 2013.
Details about the first update for Windows 8 are being teased by Microsoft. According to a posting on a Microsoft blog by a company executive, enhancements in Version 8.1 will include Start button revisions, the ability to boot directly into the traditional Windows desktop interface, and the new Internet Explorer 11 browser.
Some of the revisions could quell various complaints about 8's emphasis on a touch-oriented, tile-based interface, which has been the default screen after booting. The Start tip becomes the Windows logo, and it appears anytime the mouse is moved to the lower left corner of the screen. It will also always be visible on the taskbar when the user is on the desktop.
The Start screen will feature a variety of tile sizes, and an easier ability to name groups and rearrange tiles, to help with organization. Because people were accidentally moving Start screen tiles, 8.1 requires users to press and hold, or right click, to move tiles.
No release date for 8.1 has been announced, except that it will be available later this year as a free update. A Preview version will become available at the Build developers conference in late June.
Version 8.1's features also include more flexibility in using a PC or tablet as a picture frame, by allowing the Lock screen to function as a slide show for local photos or images from the cloud-based SkyDrive. Additionally, users can take photos from the device's camera when in the Lock screen, without having to first log in.
Swiping from the bottom in 8.1 brings up an all-apps view, and apps can be filtered by named, most used, category and other parameters. Building on the idea of the Start screen showing your favorites, the updated OS will no longer put new apps on the Start screen. New apps will be available under apps view, marked as "new" and ready to be pinned to Start if you want. There will also be more ways to view multiple apps on a screen at the same time, including ways to make multitasking easier, such as having multiple windows of the same app snapped together.
Built-in apps will also receive some new features. The Photos app has new editing and adjustment features, the Music app has been completely redesigned, and some unnamed, new apps are promised.
Store, IE 11, SkyDrive Integration
Windows Store is also being updated, with more app info, an area for related apps to assist with app discovery, and, for Store-bought apps, automatic app updates installed in the background.
8.1 also allows files to be saved directly to SkyDrive, and, after logging onto 8.1 via a Microsoft account, such as through Outlook.com, a device becomes personalized with settings and apps. Settings can be accessed without having to go through Control Panel, and SkyDrive can now be managed from Settings.
In keeping with its emphasis on touch, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President Antoine Leblond, writing Thursday on the Windows blog, described IE 11 as being "the only browser that is built for touch." Open tabs can be synced across a user's Windows 8.1 devices, and 11 allows as many open tabs as desired.
Michael Silver, vice president at industry research firm Gartner, noted that, even though there are still many details about 8.1 that Microsoft hasn't yet revealed, it's "hard not to think this is closer to what Windows 8 would have been if Microsoft had had more time."
He said that Gartner's view is the Windows' traditional desktop "is on maintenance," since it appears that Microsoft doesn't plan "on improving it all that much" because the tile-based, touch-focused interface -- formerly known as Metro -- "is the future."