What to expect from Windows 8.1

With Windows 8.1 being less than a month away from release, you should start to wonder if the upgrade is actually worth it.

In 27 days, on June 26th, Microsoft is scheduled to make a Public Preview available to current Windows 8 users who want to give it a shot.

We now have definitive knowledge that the Start Screen is not going away; however, it is being greatly enhanced to do some pretty cool things.  I talk about a few below.

The Windows 8.1 update is expected to contribute substantial improvements in six areas:

  1. More Personalization
  2. Better App Multiasking
  3. Aggregate Search
  4. Expanded PC Settings
  5. Skydrive Improvements
  6. The return of the Start Button

In this post I’ll dive into these six areas and then I’ll conclude by opining on whether I think the upgrade it worth it.

1. More Personalization 

I was really excited when Antoine Leblond, Corporate Vice President of Windows Program Management, announced significant improvements to Windows 8 customization in three areas:

  • Lock Screen Photo Slides
  • Seamless Backgrounds
  • Organized Apps

Let’s start with photo slides.  Currently, the lock screen is static.  It can’t change by itself; however, even though you can use third-party additions such as Chameleon to create a lock screen slide show, in Windows 8.1 you don’t need any extra software.

Forget the static lock screen images that fettered your creative itch for something dynamic.  You can now turn your tablets, laptops, and desktops lock screens into beautiful picture slide shows.  Your computer becomes a virtual picture frame.  Instead of buying a digital frame you can configure Windows to pull your photos from the local collection on your computer or a SkyDrive folder in the cloud.  Windows will cycle through the photos you specify turning your static lock screen images into a dynamically updated photo gallery.

This is a really good idea, especially since as costs have plummetted, large displays have become increasingly ascendant.  People who couldn’t fathom purchasing a 27 inch LED display, can now buy one without feeling like they spent a fortune.

You can also change the Start Screen background to match your desktop background to make the transition from the Start Screen and Desktop less obtrusive.  Matching backgrounds connects the two screens which felt disjointed.

Another cool feature is that you can add backgrounds with motion.  We don’t have specifics about what “motion” means but Leblond does seem to hint that it will make the Start Screen more interesting.

Finally, it’s a lot easier to organize Apps. No more accidentally dragging tiles to the wrong place or individually selecting each tile when all you really wanted to do was select a bunch at once.

2. Better App Multitasking

Multitasking Modern UI Apps is the biggest improvement here.  You can snap up to three apps side-by-side so you don’t have to shuffle between full screen Apps.  For example, say you’re using the Mail App and you’re trying to give restaurant directions to a friend (while viewing a movie in the Movie App).

You can open the Map App and snap it to the left of the Mail App so you can see the location while you type.  You can even resize the snapped apps on the fly and snap two of the same kinds of app next to each other.

3. Search

Search now aggregates content from multiple sources to create a more unified experience.

4. PC Settings

The PC settings gets beefed up with more options, virtually obviating the need for the Control Panel.

5. Skydrive

You can now access your cloud files even when you’re disconnected from the internet, something Windows 8 could only dream about doing.

6. Start Button

And finally, the Start Button is back – it’s here, and ready for clickin’.  The logo is upgraded to reflect the new modern look.  Of course, clicking the logo opens the Start Screen and not the Start Menu, but Microsoft has made so many improvements to the Start Screen that you may never pine for the Start Menu again.

We’ll have to wait until June 26th before we can get our hands on Windows 8.1, but judging from Antoine’s update it looks like it will be worth it.  Oh and did I mention the update is free?

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