As Microsoft Windows 8.1 approaches general availability in just a couple of weeks, consumers and channel partners both will need to clear the marketing
chatter from the basics to understand a few fundamental things about this Windows newcomer.
Windows 8.1 is an update to Windows 8. Everyone knows that. Make note, too, that the Windows 8.1 update will be free and available by October 18 for those with computers activated with Windows 8. Those without Windows 8 will have to pay, and the prices start at $119.99 for the basic edition and $199.99 for the Pro edition.
But back to the good news. Retail copies will include a full license, meaning that not only Windows 7 users will be able to upgrade but also those with no previous Windows version installed. Even if you do not have Windows running on your machine, you can still get a Windows 8.1 installation.
As for differences between the basic and Pro editions, you pay extra for the Pro to get enterprise features. In the case of Windows 8.1, there will be business network features such as Workplace Join, where administrators can more easily manage desktops along with meaningful control of devices. Also, features include remote business data removal so businesses can have control over corporate content that cane be marked as corporate, encrypted, and then wiped when the relationship between the corporation and user has ended.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has been continuing to peel off layers of its 8.1 debut news, showcasing each of the new apps that are bundled with Windows 8.1. The Redmond giant began its blog series a few weeks ago to announce new "experiences" to come with the release. On Thursday, Microsoft posted the latest news about the Mail app for Windows 8.1.
Think full integration with Outlook.com and think tablet, because Microsoft certainly has, in trying to make a substantive difference in the user experience. Windows 8.1 will support screens as small as 7 inches, meaning a wider range of devices, and the Microsoft team behind the Mail app is not blind to the fact that many users turn to their mobile devices and touch capabilities to access e-mail.
The mail feature represents an upgrade full of what Microsoft hopes users will see as useful improvements. Kipling Knox, group program manager for the Windows Communication Apps, posted a blog that referred to the Windows 8.1 app in tablet terms. "So if you ask us what's most interesting about this update to the e-mail experience on Windows 8.1, we'll say that we think it's the best e-mail experience for tablets," he said.
Microsoft has worked on the Mail app for touch, making it easy to select one or more messages by using checkboxes in the message list. Microsoft said that the entire app has been optimized for use on a tablet, keeping in mind that e-mail is one of the key consumer activities performed on a tablet.
"When we began working on the Mail app for Windows 8.1, we had a lot of customer feedback to consider. We also recognized that people use e-mail today in many different ways than they have in the past, and that the e-mail service you use can make all the difference," Knox said in the post. "For us, that meant ensuring that the Mail app truly takes advantage of the Outlook.com service." (Outlook.com mobile usage has tripled in the last year.)
The Mail app allows you to drag/drop messages into folders. Mail also has options for customization on how messages are sorted. Expect a new "Power Pane" to the left side of the Mail app that can showcase messages by type and create customized views of the email. The Mail app can also showcase the people you communicate with frequently; newsletters get their own special folder as an option, but users who balk at separations can also drag the messages back into the inbox.
Also, expect to see a mail feature that makes it simple to set up, monitor, and toggle between different e-mail accounts. "In a world of mobile devices like tablets, there's an increasingly narrow distinction between your 'work computer' and your 'personal computer,'" said Knox on Thursday. "More and more people are bringing their personal tablets to work, and their work laptops home."