Microsoft is gearing to release the first major update to Windows 8, codenamed “Blue” and officially known as Windows 8.1.
The update brings a lot of changes to the operating system and some features that users have been requesting since the launch of Windows 8 last year. Steve Ballmer calls the update “a refined blend” of the Windows 8 formula.
Recent leaks from Win8China reveal that Microsoft is now seeding the final version of the update, build 9477, to manufacturers and OEM brands for testing. The update is reported to be feature-locked now, but build 9477 hasn’t yet been leaked – build 9471 is the most recent available on the net. The update is expected to reach RTM (release to manufacturer) status later this August, with a planned official launch in October 2013.
Windows 8.1 brings a lot of changes to the way the Modern UI looks and feels and also includes updates for supporting new technology and making it more friendly in the workplace. The chief change to the UI is the addition of a Start Button, although this is only a placeholder for the corner shortcut that was previously used to enter the full-screen Start menu.
Some of the changes included in the update are listed below. Along with a major update to the desktop, Windows Phone 8.1 is also expected to launch at the same time, but no details are available about what changes Microsoft is planning for their mobile platform.
- New apps: Calculator, Alarm clock, Sound recorder, Windows Movie editor, Reading list, Food & Drink app, Health & Fitness app, dedicated Skydrive file manager
- Internet Explorer 11 – supports WebGL and new developer tools
- PC Settings app has more options, making Control Panel more redundant
- Windows PowerShell 4.0 now includes command-line options for managing the Start screen and more
- Windows Defender now includes a network intrusion detection system
- Windows Store 2.0 – revamped layout and better community integration
- Skype for Windows is now pre-installed with the Modern UI interface
Start Screen changes:
- Live Tiles can be replaced by an All Apps view
- New gestures to bring up All Apps menu
- Tiles can now be locked into place, preventing them from being moved and this can be controlled through Group Policy
- Tiles now have four sizes – small, medium, wide and large
- More customisation options for the Start menu with more colours and a customisable colour palette
- Your desktop background can now be seen in the Start menu, animated backgrounds are supported
- A Start button will always be visible in the bottom left corner of the screen
- The Start screen can be skipped, allowing Windows 8 to boot straight into the desktop
- Power Users menu gets new options including the ability to Shut down and restart without using the Charms menu
- Smaller screens now support Modern UI app snapping, landscape mode
New technology support:
- NFC printing is now supported
- Wi-Fi Direct printing is now supported
- 3D printer are natively supported with native APIs – no specialised drivers are required
- Miracast is now natively supported. This may also be included in Windows Phone 8.1 and may also work with the Xbox One
- Mobile broadband tethering is natively supported
- VPN connections may now be automatically triggered and Windows may launch specific VPNs for specific apps that require them
- DirectX 11.2 supporting tiled resources, new rendering options for graphics cards and other features
- Improved support for high-resolution monitors including pixel-doubling to increase sharpness
Windows 8.1 also has a requirement that may require users to upgrade their hardware. The x64 version of the updated OS requires processors to support some specific instructions. This requirement means that the OS will run properly on systems using an Intel Core 2 Duo/Quad or AMD Athlon/Phenom II or newer processor.
The preview build also does not work on any system based on Intel’s older Atom processors. For older hardware, installing the 32-bit version is recommended.