Microsoft will probably release the public preview of Windows Blue, now officially dubbed “Windows 8.1″ in the Apple style of “point releases,” at its June developer conference, Build2013. The Redmond firm is abandoning its traditional operating system release cycle, where every three years or so it drops a Big & Different OS on an unsuspecting user base. Some Windows 8 and RT users might pay to upgrade, but if Microsoft uses the Apple style of pricing, too, folks will be happy: OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) is $19.99.
What it is, what it isn’t
Windows runs on the majority of the world’s computers, so all the people that use company PCs, rent laptops, or have both at home have a strong incentive for the latest iteration of the OS to be good, not just “good enough.” Windows 8.1 is bringing targeted feature improvements, cosmetic refinements, and operational changes to an OS that has exhibited more than its share of quirky behavior since its debut. Interestingly, whenever inaccurate speculations began to get traction on the Internet over the last 15 or 20 months of discussion about Windows 8, a curiously well-timed leak would set things straight.
A fairly recent build of 8.1 leaked online and showed among other things that Microsoft has refined Windows’ internal search function: rather than divided among the three default categories (apps, settings, files), results are displayed in a single, easily scanned screen. You only click if you need to filter them. The poor search function is one of the major annoyances with Windows 8, so this would be a welcome change.
Evolutionary, not revolutionary
Apple has its iCloud service available to all its products, from an iMac running OS X to the latest iPad mini with iOS, and the cloud is critically important for Microsoft, too. (“Three screens and a cloud,” remember?) Along with new Live Tiles in a range of sizes and formats, plus revisions and upgrades to the OS’s bundled applications, Windows 8.1 will also feature much deeper integration with Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud services. (We will discuss this critically important move in an upcoming blog.)
Like all software (all science, one might as well say) Windows 8 is a work in progress. Following the first public showing of the Windows 8 concept, where Microsoft unveiled a partial build of the OS that was complete “in feature terms,” the company released a developer preview without e-mail, a consumer preview with time limits, and a release preview. After Windows 8 was officially released, its apps and communications programs were updated and extended. Windows 8.1 continues the process, and it looks like things are getting good.
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