Windows 8.1 – out of the “blue”…

The most recent Microsoft Build conference happened a few days ago and to be honest, we were waiting for this day ever since we realised Windows 8 is not yet done amazing us. We’re quite predictable, unlike Microsoft of course, that way and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next. Windows 8.1 preview has been made publicly available and after a day of using it we love it more than would to have a stable internet connection; seriously, this post should have been up days ago.

Of course, we did try an unfinished preview of Windows 8.1, then known as “Blue”, a while back, and discovered great new changes we could expect in the final release. As of now, there is a version of Blue just legal enough to use as a consumer. Let’s just get to it…

Booting into Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 Boot
First of all I have absolutely no idea Why The Fish. I suppose it must be because of the fluidity of Windows.

We decided to set it up using the ISO instead of upgrading our current installs. It might just be the excitement of trying Windows 8.1 first hand, but we did notice improvements in the installation speed.

Setup
They’re now asking for a Microsoft account and the password on the same screen.

We completed our account setup. There is a greater degree of control in personalisation.

Newer Start screen elements

First Start Screen
Now that is an awesome Start Screen. There are downward pointing arrows on the bottom right of many app tiles. Progress-bars too. So, far more information on the main screen itself.

Okay! So, the first thing I’d do is resize and rearrange the tiles. This is just the preview so I’ll let it pass, but I hope the final release sets my tile sizes right on setup.

Start screen adjustments.
Start screen changes are easier now.

Customising the Start screen is nicer in Windows 8.1, in that all you do is right click on any tile once and it stays in customisation mode until clicked elsewhere. Oh! And right click is now easier – done using tap and hold. The new double height and quarter square tile sizes, we saw earlier, seems to be applied to more apps than we knew they’ll be available for. In addition to Desktop, double height tiles are available for Weather, Music, Video, Pictures and maybe more – I didn’t try them all. Multiple selections can be made on the Start screen now and tile size customisations can be applied in bulk – they won’t grow or shrink more than they can. Note that each group of tiles can be named right here instead of doing it after a semantic zoom.

With Windows 8.1, I can finally go all Windows Phoney.

Plain black background
I swear it looks cooler on my laptop than it might here…

Now while there are a lot of personalisation options to choose from, Windows 8.1 lets one use the background for desktop as the background for the start screen. Switching between desktop and start screen mode is seamless that way.

Windows 8.1 wallpaper
Ah! Isn’t that just beautiful? Changing your desktop background will change it on the start screen too.

Now for something I wasn’t thrilled about when I heard of it, the Start button is back. And it’s good, it’s better this way.

Desktop mode

Windows 8.1 Desktop
There’s the Start button. It glows in a different way than it did on the Charms bar in the current version of Windows 8.

What was once My Computer, and most recently, Computer, is now “This PC”. I don’t think it changes anything but I’m guessing there will be a few users fixating on the trivial.

Windows 8.1 System
Here on, it appears we’ll know this OS as Windows 8.1 unlike earlier service pack tagging.

So, the preview built of the next Windows is numbered [6.3.9431]; which appears more of a major release – something they never did before with Windows. Microsoft seems to be sweeping through build numbers rapidly. That seems like a good sign.

Further customisation

Bug
I did a bit more customisation and it seems as if I found a bug.

In my earlier encounters with Blue, I did find weird bugs in the tiling system and that appears to have gone unchecked. Of course, they’ve got a lot on their plate so I’ll sit this one out. Still, with a little work I managed to do this. Can you?

Tile Bug
Seriously, I’d like to know if anyone can get it to do this…

Windows 8.1 on touch

Of course, that is not all we did this time. We tried the new features of Windows in touch mode too. Turns out, touch is where Windows 8.1 gets Windows Phonier.

Touch Windows 8.1
This is the same installation I’ve been trying except streaming on an iPad via Splashtop.

It is nice to finally be able to use a Windows tablet like I did Windows Phone. The all apps list now can be visited by just swiping upward from anywhere on the start screen.

Slide to Apps
As you might notice, the downward arrow allowing the all Apps screen won’t appear in touch mode unless you’ve moved all the way right.
Apps
So, that’s the app screen.

Now let’s talk about some apps.

App improvements

The Store

The Windows Store has undergone a major transformation. It is more personal now with its “Picks for you” selection and its list of Top Apps.

Windows 8.1 Store
Look at that! That is the kind of store we need.

So, what happens to the app listing based on genre? It is still there except you invoke it with a swipe from top or with a right click.

Store Menu
So, that’s a lot more than we had before without much scrolling.

Now, what you see next is an app – a chrome-less one. That’s our site on the improved Internet Explorer. Its scrolling and zooming fluidity have improved and we’re glad to see improvements on the desktop IE too, even though we’re not going very deep into it.

Internet Explorer

Windows Internet Explorer
Yeah! I’d confuse it for a picture of our site layout too.

Internet Explorer for Windows 8.1 has changed its tabbing system to now display tabs on the bottom of the screen, just above the address bar.

IE tabs

Now, that is not where the improvements with IE end. We’ve now got the ability to have more than one Internet Explorer windows open.

IE windows
Hmm, so that’s new. I’ve never ever seen apps partitioned half way; legally at least.

Let’s investigate running multiple apps in Windows 8.1 now.

PicStoreTouch
But let’s start with the lowest resolution I can get.

As it turns out, even at the lowest resolution, Windows now allows two side-by-side apps. That’s by default. The app wouldn’t go to it’s side snapped view.

App snap
I’m trying to snap desktop with the store. They will both share half the screen space.

Now, once both apps snap, I wonder which app gets replaced if I open a third app.

App snap conflict
If wish to snap the Games app now, it lets me choose between the two apps instead of replacing the largest one.
Desktop and Games snapped
Well, that’s about it for those with old monitors. Let’s up the resolution.

Touch Keyboard enhancements

If we just continue on with touch for a while, we discover that the keyboard has improved since Windows 8.

Number input
Now, all one needs to do is slide up the top row keys to type in numbers rather than entering numeric input mode.

In addition the most used punctuations other than the period, apostrophe and the comma can be quickly obtained by holding the question mark key and sliding to the right punctuation.

Punctuations
Cool! This will be more helpful in devices made to operate better in single app portrait mode.

Now, let’s increase the resolution.

Multiple apps

As we go higher, we discovered that a greater number of apps can be added. However, none of them enter their snapped view now. Its like snapped view has been abandoned for good – there was not much that could be done.

Top right
Resolutions with under 1920 vertical lines allow a maximum of three apps. But there is something peculiar in the Charms bar now.

As it turns out, the Charms will be closer to the corner you use to invoke it.

Bottom Right
Don’t be alarmed. I’ve set the desktop wallpaper to change every 10 seconds.

App switching

I’ve chosen to open up the Windows 8 control panel. It, yet again, prompts to choose the window to be replaced.

3 apps snap
The app hovers over the separator between the first two, but any of them can be replaced.

If we increase the resolution even further, we can accommodate a maximum of 4 apps. We believe 4 apps per screen is the limit on Windows 8.1.

4 Internet Explorer
Here we have four windows of IE cascaded horizontally.

If I double tap any of the separators, all apps revert to equal widths. With 4 separate apps on, it appears that there is a snapped view for apps except it retains full functionality.

Switching adjustments

Barrier adjustment
Reducing an app width will only extend the adjacent app.

Every app has their own minimum width and can only be shrunk down that far before it is knocked off the screen.

Minimum width of each app
Internet Explorer can get the slimmest if it needs to.It is clearly visible that space is available for more than 4 apps.

Of course, I totally understand the limit. They’ve done it because nobody can actually take advantage of snapped view of apps and would occasionally extend the app they wish to focus on.

One suggestion

A suggestion
Here is a suggestion for the final release: Make it so that open apps immediately take over the empty screen space.

Well, that was our screenshot-evidence supported first impression. All those who’ve tried it, let us know anything and whatever you’ve come across. This is not the end of discussion on Blue yet. We’d bring in more info as it arrives.

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