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Windows 8.1: release date, new features, screenshots

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By Barry Collins

Posted on 13 Aug 2013 at 10:10

Windows 8.1 has been unveiled at Microsoft's Build conference in San Francisco.

The Windows 8.1 Preview is available to download from Microsoft here or through the Windows Store.

Click here to read our review of Windows 8.1

Change log

This feature was updated on 13 August with an update on the release date

Note that if you install the Windows 8.1 Preview over your current Windows 8 installation, you will have to reinstall all Windows Store and desktop apps when the the final version is released, so you might not wish to test the new OS on your primary PC. All user data and accounts should be retained.

Here we reveal the new features, screenshots and videos of the first major update to Windows 8 - read our review of Windows 8.1 here.

Smaller tablets

Windows 8.1 will have better support for smaller tablets. The Start screen adapts to smaller form factors to work better in portrait mode. Developers will be able to design apps specifically for smaller form factors.

The virtual keyboard has been redesigned to suggests words as you type. Rather than removing your hand from the virtual keyboard to select the word, Windows 8.1 recognises gestures, letting you pick the word you want by stroking the space bar.

Start button returns

Desktop tiles

The much-missed Start button returns to the desktop - although not in the form many have hoped for.

There's no old-fashioned Start menu. Instead, pressing the Start button overlays the Windows 8 Start screen tiles over the desktop wallpaper. It's a lot less jarring than before, making the new Start screen feel like less of an intruder on desktop PCs.

Right clicking on the Start button also brings up the power user menu.
That menu now now has options to shutdown and restart, meaning users can reboot directly from the Start button, similar to previous versions of Windows.

Direct to desktop

Windows 8.1 will also feature an option to bypass the much-maligned tile-based Start Screen.

The new Start Screen has proven controversial, with many desktop and laptop users bemoaning the fact that they can't simply skip straight to the more mouse-and-keyboard friendly desktop of old.

The option to boot straight to desktop is now offered, although not switched on by default.

Start screen wallpaper and lock screen

Windows 8.1 will allow users to set their own wallpaper on the Start screen. Currently, users are merely allowed to choose from a selection of preset "accents" and to select a colour scheme.

The Settings charm includes a new Personalize option that provides more granular control over the appearance of the Start menu backgrounds and colours, including the accent colour of the Start charm itself.

Windows 8.1 also includes new "motion accents" - animated wallpapers that move as you scroll through the Start screen.

The lock screen can now be used as a digital photo frame, displaying a slideshow of images stored on the user's PC or in cloud services such as SkyDrive.

New tile sizes

Windows Blue

Windows 8.1 offers support for more tile sizes. Windows 8 supports two - "smaller" and "larger" - but Blue throws another two sizes into the mix. App tiles can now be reduced down to thumbnail size, occupying only a quarter of the space an existing "smaller" tile occupies.

There’s also a new super-sized tile, the size of two of Windows 8’s "larger" tiles. This allows you to display more live information on tiles such as Mail and Weather, providing a detailed synopsis of recent messages in your inbox or a long-range weather forecast, for example.

New apps

Windows 8.1 includes a new photo editing tool built directly into the OS, with radial controls to make it easier to add filters and tweak images.

Bing Food & Drink features recipes, and shopping lists, and can be used with a hands-free mode – this uses the webcam to recognise gestures to flip through pages, so you don’t need to touch the screen.

Xbox Music has been redesigned, featuring free music streaming and a personalised radio player that creates playlists based on your preferences.

There’s a new Mail app in the works, but it won’t show up until the final version in the autumn. It will feature the same "Sweep" tool from Outlook.com that lets you automatically clean up newsletters and other messages.

Mail

Microsoft also showed off a "pre-alpha" version of PowerPoint for Windows RT, but didn’t show off any other touch versions of Office apps.

Windows 8.1 will also feature a built-in 3D printing tool, letting users print to devices such as the MakerBot directly from their device without any specialised software.

Revamped search

Windows 8.1 unified search

One of the biggest criticisms of Windows 8 was that the search menu had been hobbled, only returning results for apps by default. Windows 8.1 reverts to a unified search menu, which as you can see from the screenshot above, returns results for apps, settings and files as you begin to type.

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User comments

Windows RT

And will apply to Windows RT? For 7 inch form factor, that seems the most likely option at present, unless Intel can get their Atoms shipping in volume (that is, can get OEMs to use them).

By JimmyN on 22 Mar 2013

I already knew that...

But I want more.....

By wittgenfrog on 22 Mar 2013

Its the name that is the real problem

The last thing anyone previously wanted was a blue window screen with some fathomless error code.

By davidk1962 on 22 Mar 2013

Blue

is just the internal code name.

By big_D on 24 Mar 2013

Sound like 'logical' progress

MS is a lot of things, but "Stupid" isn't an epiphet it would be wise to apply too generally.

Windows 8, as released is a very 'interim' sort of effort. If it wasn't called "Windows 8" it might be (e.g.) "Metro 1.0".
We all know that V1.x of anything, and MS stuff in particular is rarely the best version...

What seems clear from these 'leaks' is that MS is busily tidying up Windows 8, especially for Touch.
The whole tedious business of switching between "Desktop" and "Metro" modes seems to be receiving attention, as it should. Together with rumours that the built-in apps are being revised it appears that MS are getting serious. They clearly want users choosing the "Apps" as their preferred tools, rather than merely as an adjunct. This is hardly Rocket Science....

The killer App, in my view, will be a decent port of Outlook (or at least its capabilities) to the "Modern UI".
If they can also manage to deliver the other core Office Apps in "Modern" format, that would put the icing on the cake....

By wittgenfrog on 25 Mar 2013

@wittenfrog - are you suggesting that MS gives away Office 2013 for free? Office Apps in the 'Modern' format is what you get!

Also, has anyone noticed that PC Pro is changing the dates on news stories to make them appear newer?

By Stiggy on 26 Mar 2013

Blue could be Windows 9, if MS is or has moved to a yearly release for windows, then we would get windows 10 bring it inline with OSX. I know version numbers don't matter but perceptions do.... MS did this with word 2.0 to word 6.0 when word perfect was at version 6.0.....

By KryptosSol on 27 Mar 2013

Article Updates

@Stiggy - yes I've seen a new Windows Blue article every day this week.

Except I havent. If this is a new mechanism PC Pro are adopting on updating news articles as more info becomes available then it isnt working.

The article has presumably been updated but how do I know what is the relevant update? I cant remember exactly what was there before and so it is meaningless.

A better solution would be to append the updates, with the date of the change at the bottom of the article.

By Fraz_pro on 27 Mar 2013

Hi Stiggy and Fraz_pro - this is indeed a new way of keeping stories updated. Sorry it's confusing, we'll take your feedback on board and try to come up with a way that works better.

Thanks,
Nicole Kobie
News Editor

By Nicole_Kobie on 27 Mar 2013

Release Date

If it's going into Preview after Build at the end of June then it's hardly going to RTM in June - or July for that matter.

By jmiii on 27 Mar 2013

@jmiii

End of August is the date that is doing the rounds.

By big_D on 27 Mar 2013

Cost?

Will they charge to update Windows 8 to Blue? If so isn't it changing to an annual subscription model for the OS?

By daliere on 28 Mar 2013

Video of Windows Blue

Here's a good video of what's coming in the next version of Windows 8. http://www.theverge.com/2013/3/25/4144618/windows-
blue-video-preview-screenshots

By henry20012 on 28 Mar 2013

Article Updates

Sorry Nicole but if this is the new way of keeping stories updated. I will be moving elsewhere for information. Just haven't the time to keep reading the same thing to try and find out what's changed. Sorry

By SimplyGrey on 28 Mar 2013

Metro Apps in a Window

Check out Stardocks new ModernMix app announced via an email earlier today, finally Metro apps running in Windows on my 27" screen, something they should have done from the start, anyone would have thought the OS was called 'Window 8' and not 'Windows 8'! Let's hope Windows Blue includes this by default, I can't imagine their app store having any hope of success otherwise, who with a reasonable modern desktop screen would use full screen apps!

By Samo42 on 28 Mar 2013

Hope Windows Blue is just a Service Pack for Windows 8

By Yauhongacer on 30 Mar 2013

Look Out for Annual Licencing Model

It may not happen this time as Windows 8 is so very broken, but it looks like the start of an annual subscription model in the same way as Adobe are doing. Not £159 every 3 years, but £60 every year. It looks ok (60 vs 180), but it is still just a shabby and unnecessarily expensive waste. I'll just wait for the Steam special 75% reduction 2 months down the line :p

By Manuel on 2 Apr 2013

Keeping Stories updated

The trouble is, PC Pro, if you change or update the story, the previous comments made by the readers no longer necessarily make sense.

By jmiii on 2 Apr 2013

Can Not be Bothered

reading all the way through this in the hope I might notice what has been added since the last time it appeared.

By SimplyGrey on 2 Apr 2013

Microsoft Win 8.

You can't polish a turd.

By Sgt_Bilko1 on 4 Apr 2013

New news is nicer than old news....

...and simply repeating previous items with minor changes is just desperate space filling.

And not at all helpful for those readers looking for new news stories.

By jmiii on 15 Apr 2013

@jmiii

Can't PC Pro simply add the newest bits at the end of the article along with a date to indicate when it was added. That way you could simply scroll to the end of the article and see what's been added, instead of the confusion you have now where you have to re-read everything?

By pbryanw on 15 Apr 2013

I certainly haven't got time to trawl through articles trying to figure out what has changed. It's absurd.

By renhoek on 15 Apr 2013

Article Updates

Agree with everyone on article updates, I use the RSS feed to show new stories and this keeps coming up as a news story - really starting to get on my nerves now.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was a bulleted list of what is currently known about Windows 8 but to be written as an article with just a change log really doesn't solve the problem.

PC Pro - please listen these are not just complaints for the sake of complaining.

Thanks

By neil_aky on 16 Apr 2013

Not again

I fell for it again - thought this was a new article! Oh well...

By neil_aky on 22 Apr 2013

How amusing!

The painted hands image screenshot clearly says "Bill Gates condom" at the bottom! Looks like their error catching and PR boobs will continue then. Bit worrying though... well, IF you're a Windows user I suppose.

By SwissMac on 22 Apr 2013

Windows Server

Does this mean that there will be Windows server 2012 R2?

By Jon2010 on 23 Apr 2013

@Sgt_Bilko1

"You can't polish a turd"

No, but you can roll it in glitter...

By anthona on 23 Apr 2013

How do I...

How do I remove the c*** icon, charms or whaterver they're called from the "Start" screen so it will only show shortcuts to something I actually use,
ie web browser (non micro$soft) mail program (non micro$oft) etc

By tyronet2000 on 25 Apr 2013

"You can't polish a turd" No, but you can roll it in glitter

Bill Gates condom

I haven't laughed so much in ages. Thank you PC Pro forums!

By Stiggy on 25 Apr 2013

This Article. Again.

"the Start menu's removal was down to analysing user data and seeing it wasn't widely used"
What data? iPad use?

By cheysuli on 14 May 2013

Makes you wonder

Have PC Pro (dennis) sacked half of its staff?
there seems to be less stories and the "morning briefing" that these sort of updates would be included in have disappeared! regurgitating a story because some one confirmed a name is a little desperate!

By wes_cov on 14 May 2013

SwissMac seems to be clutching at ever more insubstantial straws.

The Bill Gates condom is a trending news story: http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2013/s375
1107.htm

By Alfresco on 14 May 2013

Cannot be bother

Reading all the way through this again to find out what Tami Reller confirmed

By SimplyGrey on 14 May 2013

U turn

Now that Microsoft have learned from their mistakes, will PC Pro revise their policy of updating old news stories? It really doesn't work...

By Stiggy on 14 May 2013

those tiles so gauche

MS should have employed Mondrian. At least the desktop would have been attractive to look at. Instead they offer yukki colours and Student generated shapes around the edge. Had the desktop been attractively designed there would have been fewer objections to the whole Upgrade

By the_curler on 14 May 2013

Another re-hashed mess of an article

Please PC Pro make the effort to write new news stories, not just re-hash old ones.

By jmiii on 14 May 2013

Again!

Seems PC pro are not listening to comments about the constant 'updates' of the same story.

It really does not work and I think the standard of reporting on the 'news' has slipped. Whilst PC Pro has some excellent articles from the older regulars, I'm afraid the way news is reported does not work for me.

By neil_aky on 15 May 2013

I agree

What @neil_aky said. I have read the article already and have no interest in reading the entire article again just to know what the updates are.

It would have been much better if the updates were added at the start or the end of the article or even be in different colour.

By firstsin on 15 May 2013

No Start No Sale

I have been trying to track down a current model PC which still ships with Windows 7 without much success. The person for whom I am buying this computer will struggle with a new interface, and to what benefit? The Start menu worked fine, and its progressive iteration from Windows XP was one of the great improvements in Windows, turning it by Windows 7 into a pretty decent and usable OS. Losing the Start menu means that I can't countenance buying a new PC - instead this user (like many out there I am sure) will just struggle along with an old PC until such a time as it is possible again to buy a PC with a version of Windows which has the Start menu in all of its glory.

By ncollingridge on 24 May 2013

Flawed research

"the Start menu's removal was down to analysing user data and seeing it wasn't widely used" - this just can't be true. Who did they survey?

By ncollingridge on 24 May 2013

@ncollingridge

I think your too fixed on the start menu, my OAP dad couldn't even find the start button when i set him up a few years back i have just got him a new laptop not long ago with Windows 8 and he loves it the start screen and desktop pinned task bar are perfect , i myself use windows 8 and have changed a lot of none computer literate ppl onto it as well and we all agree windows 8 allows you to work so much faster and smoother than the other windows, step away from the start button and get over it, its not a necessity far from it older ppl will like windows 8 once they are shown how easy it really is the search is amazing, I do think microsoft advertised win 8 wrong i tried the touch system but mouse and keyboard work so much better. p.s. can pcpro please write a new article and not update this one.....

By dxlwebs on 30 May 2013

Oh for heaven's sake...

Just been suckered into looking at the same article for about the fifth time. Sort it out, PC Pro, it's getting beyond tiresome.

By martincwday on 30 May 2013

Stardock

No need for that add-on product now...

By bet1001 on 30 May 2013

Skydrive sync for RT (hopefully..)

According to Ed Bott at ZDNet, it looks like off-line Skydrive syncing will finally be built into the OS which will be a welcome addition to RT owners. Will make the devices much more usable.

Yes, I know you guys/ girls at PCPro don't like RT much, but it suits me fine.

Each to their own I suppose.

By bronven on 30 May 2013

Start button and boot to desktop confirmed

Really?
Where in the story has this been said?

By greemble on 30 May 2013

GB vs GiB notations, and long file paths support?

I hope Windows Blue's Explorer will finally support file paths longer than 255 characters in length. NTFS support thousands of characters in length. I have to use totalcommander to do file transfers.

Also I hope Explorer will finally use the correct units for file storage. MiB and GiB instead of MB and GB.

That is the source of confusion when everybody complains about a 1TB hard drive only having 931GB of capacity or a 500GB drive only having 465GB of capacity! It is because Windows lies.

By danwat1234 on 30 May 2013

Can't think of a better example of corporate "la la la, we're not listening!"

Customers: "We need the START menu back!"
Microsoft: "Use metro"
Customers: "It's utterly useless for mouse/keyboard - we want the START menu. It worked."
Microsoft: "Use metro"
Customers: "Oh, forget it! I've installed Classic shell!"
..long pause...
Microsoft: "We're putting back the START button!"
Customers: "You mean the START menu?"
Microsoft: "No, we only put the button back. It just opens Metro."
Customers: "Oh for f...s sake! What are you? Touch-screen salesmen?"

By cheysuli on 3 Jun 2013

Not again...

PC PRO staff, do you really expect people to read the same article again and again, and try to figure out what you changed this time?

By aa111 on 3 Jun 2013

Yes again...

Like Microsoft, PC Pro aren't listening.

Many of us will just get our IT news elsewhere.

By Stiggy on 3 Jun 2013

@aa111 and @Stiggy

Did you not see the large blue box near the top of the article that says "Change log"? It's been there for ages. You might find that useful before you complain further...

By The_Scrote on 4 Jun 2013

Thanks, Scrote, but I've seen the box and it doesn't help.

By Stiggy on 4 Jun 2013

release date

i checked the release dates all the way back to xp, and xp, 7, and 8 were all released mid-late october with the exception of vista which was late january... i think its likely that it will be here before christmas. one of the only reasons it wouldnt be is manufacturing problems, recalls or delayed because of microsoft being idiots as usual an calling it an edgy marketing strategy!

By djfunkyboy98 on 6 Jun 2013

WTF

Windows 8 ain't broke. It don't need fixing, and it don't need a start button. Please just get rid of the desktop, and allow files to be pinned to the Live Tile environment like Apps and Shortcuts. Then it'll be perfect

By timbosta on 21 Jun 2013

@timbosta

I gather you are being saracstic because Windows 8 is more than broken!.

I'm not bothered about the start button but the Metro UI is a POS for anything other than a touch screen.

By Coltch on 24 Jun 2013

puerile stunt

"Start button will return - although not in the form many have hoped for."

What do you mean - "many"? Nobody hoped for the start button .ico to be cut and pasted onto a different underlying function. Of those who hoped for its return, all hoped for the actual Sart Button, not something else wearing its icon.

By martindaler on 24 Jun 2013

Updated story

How are we supposed to know what comments refer to which iteration of this piece? Crazy

By adamgashead on 26 Jun 2013

Windows UI

I've wondered for a while why Microsoft don't adapt ideas from HTML5; particularly responsive design... If they took into account a combination of screen size and resolution then they could display the Start Button only if 'relevant' and change default snapping settings, and just generally change the UI to fit the user's device in an intelligent way. Simples :)

By luke20 on 26 Jun 2013

@The_Scrote and PC Pro

Yes I saw the change log box, but how it's supposed to help?
First of all it's not a change log at all as they only mention the last update. And then there is still no indications in the article itself what and when has been changed. They don't put new bit at the end as far as I can see...

By aa111 on 27 Jun 2013

Still not able to connect to Preview in Store

I do want to use the preview on my RT Tablet - primarily to test Outlook RT, but as I write this, some 15 hours after the release, I'm still getting "please try again later" from the Windows Store

By ainsley001 on 27 Jun 2013

thedrumdoctor

As somebody who has been supporting Windows in business environments since 1999, this looks like a company who are so out of touch with the domestic IT user. Why am I not surprised that Apple & Android devices rule the roost in peoples palms? Their servers & business desktop management tools are getting better though, so maybe they will still win where there is a need to serve users in a managed, locked down environment - which isn't in the home.

By thedrumdoctor on 27 Jun 2013

ISO

The ISO is still not available. '...ISO files will be made available on this site within the next day...' is a tad vague.

By synaptic_fire on 27 Jun 2013

Yes we do need genuine Start Button back

I don't mind the tiles (Metro), in fact I like their 'live' updating display capability; it's refreshing, visually informative and useful. However at the same time I CANNOT be without the Start Button - over time I install many programs and eventually tend to have a large catalog of programs which luckily hardly impact system performance when you have a '6G' SSD on board (I'm using Windows 7). Many of my programs are used regularly, some occasionally and many rarely, additionally there will be a number installed just for testing/sampling and then left alone to see if future updates will improve them; eventually it's easy to forget some or many programs that are installed or it would have been the case without the Start Button because it is the Start Button>All Programs that constantly gives a user visual confirmation of all that has been installed by the user as well as some system supplied programs. Hence I constantly have an awareness of whats installed and have only to enter sub folders in All Programs to visually see what I have in case I have forgotten certain programs (or new programs) names. I've often found myself thinking "I forgot I had that!", or "I forgot I installed that one long ago" or "Oh..! that's what that one was called (I had forgotten)".

Point is, with Start Button replaced with the Search App method how can you pull up something that you don't know or remember the name of, but you have a very vague idea of what the program is about but worse still sometimes a programs name bares no resemblance at all to the nature of the program.

By Starchild1_618 on 28 Jun 2013

M$ must try harder

From what I have seen so far the changes to the start button , m$ has only modified it slightly and still not listened to what the people want.

By stevenproc on 28 Jun 2013

NETBOOK

I put the 8.1 preview on my netbook and it runs far better than xp ever did. the only downside is some of the apps don't work because the resolution is too low, I not a fan of app and prefer the desktop.using as an eBook reader which works really wel and because its a full version of windows i can use adobe digital editions runs and nvda runs very well. However i do miss the start menu.

By IMACOMPUTERBUDD1 on 30 Jul 2013

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