Today, Steve Balmer announced that Windows 8 users can now download Windows 8.1 for free.
You probably heard that the Start button is back and you can now boot directly to the desktop but there are a myriad of lesser known features that came up during the keynote.
You can read about all the features in the official Windows 8.1 product guide, but I just want to accentuate a few points:
Balmer talked about augmenting the Microsoft store with new apps including both a Flipbook and Facebook App. Moreover, Balmer touted that there will be over 100,000 apps in the store before the end of the month. On the one hand this is a triumph; however, Microsoft still has strides to make.
The Facebook app finally gets here and I applaud Microsoft for listening to the community but I’m still annoyed that it took so long to arrive.
Facebook is indisputably the largest social media network on the planet; why did Microsoft dilly-dally for more than half a year after the Windows 8 release?
To me, the Facebook app is a bittersweet victory because it should have been here months ago.
I think of it like Blackberry when it decided to include a notifications hub that you can access with a single swipe… oh wait I forgot – Blackberry just included that feature eons after it’s competitors. Ahh but I digress.
New App Management and Functionality
Honestly, I can’t complain about everything. I really like the new support for multiple monitors. Windows 8.1 lets you simultaneously display up to 8 applications across two monitors. You can drag the vertical apps separators into any position you like so you’re no longer confined to the 2/3 and 1/3 screen allocations of Windows 8.
There’s also a pretty cool feature called Hands Free.
Let’s say you’ve got your Windows 8.1 tablet in your kitchen and you’re reading a recipe from the new Bing Food & Drink App. You need to swipe to another screen to see the rest of the recipe; however, your hands are covered in cookie dough. What to do?
The new Hands Free mode turns the integrated Webcam into a swipe tool so now you can move through screens by merely passing your palm over the mini-camera.
Bing it On
Bing has really been revamped. Earlier this month I delineated the advancements we should expect in Search with Windows 8.1, but during today’s keynote we actually got to see it in action.
Julie Larson-Green, VP of Program Management for Windows Experience, showed it off in grand style. She’s calling it Bing Inside because it’s now integrated into the system shell; it’s no longer an external app.
With Bing integration, the Search Charm functions like a modern command line tool for your system. She remarked:
it’s the one place you go to get to everything you want to do
She went on to say
Search is not just a list of links, it’s things you do
This is what she means: In Windows 8.1, the search results look like curated apps.
As you type, Bing concurrently, and instantly, starts searching your local system, the web, Skydrive, your music playlists and virtually everything it can find that’s related. It was pretty amazing to watch.
The screen grab below shows the dynamic search results for the phrase “marilyn monroe”
Internet Explorer 11
The coolest and most memorable features concerning IE11 was the ability to share a music site to the Music App. Larson-Green visited a music artists webpage in IE11 then summoned the Share Bar. When she clicked Music App, it dynamically created a playlist using the streaming music off that website.
The Lock Screen
You can now accept video calls directly from the lock screen or you can turn the lock screen into a slide show of your family photos stored on your local computer or Skydrive.
The Start Screen
Swipe or drag the Start Screen down to see all your Apps neatly grouped into categories by Name. You can also view them by Date Installed, Most Used, or Category too; just click the drop-down to the right of Apps by name in the upper left corner of the screen.
The Bottom Line
Windows 8.1 has some real advancements that are both relevant and powerful. I feel like Microsoft is really listening to customers by adding new Apps such as the Facebook app, integrating Bing into the system so search becomes universal, and making the Start Screen less chaotic with grouped apps.
But enough of my blabber, go ahead and check it out for yourself.