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Smaller live tiles, new Internet Explorer 11 browser, and multi-monitor "snap" views are among highlights

Details have already started to trickle out regarding Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFTWindows Blue -- the somewhat ironically named (BSOD anyone?) sequel to the coolly received Windows 8, a refresh which sources indicate will land later this year.  But a leak of a partner test build from earlier this month shows us the most explicit details about the Windows 8 UI makeover yet.

I. The Leak 

The leak came courtesy of photos posted to a Polish language forum in The leak also fell on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's 57th birthday.  Mr. Ballmer has shaken up the Windows team after Windows 8 received mixed reviews, with the biggest change being the departure of Windows President Steven Sinofsky.  The shakeups are expected to have a sizeable influence on the end product as Microsoft moves towards a shorter schedule of releases with Windows Blue.

The leaked build -- Build 9364 -- was compiled on March 15th, and is one of the builds that Microsoft sends to certain trusted partners in the months leading up to a Windows OS or service pack launch.

The build is current 2.63 GB

II. The Features

One of the biggest changes showcased in the leaked screenshots was an expected one -- smaller live tiles.  Much like Windows Phone 8, Windows Blue gives developers and customers more flexibility by allowing them to adopt a smaller/leaner footprint for seldom used apps' tiles.

Windows Blue

Microsoft has also borrowed Windows 7's desktop "snapping" and inserted it into the Windows 8 UI to allow snapped Windows 8-style apps.  The concept has been extended to allow a 4-app snapped configuration.  What's more, the snap-fest can extend to up to 8 simultaneously snapped apps in a multi-monitor setup.

Windows Blue

Windows Blue snaps (2)

The screenshots also show off a series of Windows 8-style apps --alarm, sound recorder, movie moments, and calculator -- which will come pre-loaded with Blue.  

Windows Blue

And there's new style options to allow users greater flexibility in customizing the look of their Windows 8-style GUI.

Windows Blue styles
Windows Blue Styles 2

The Windows 8 menu's controls have been streamlined and expanded to offer more intuitive control over hardware, uploads, networking, and other options so as to minimize the instances in which you have to return to the desktop control panel.

Windows Blue Control Panel (1)

Windows Blue Control Panel (2)

Windows Blue control panel (3)

Windows Blue Control Panel (4)

There's new gestures for touch users:
  • swipe up from the bottom -- gives a list of all apps
  • swipe up or down (in Desktop Mode) -- gives toolbar w/ access to Snap
Another highlight is a test build of the upcoming Internet Explorer 11.  The new browser has tab syncing, presumably to sync tabs between your mobile Windows Phone Blue device and your various Windows Blue tablets/laptops/desktops.

Windows Blue

Wrapping up the changes, there have been modifications to the "Charms" feature.  There's a new option in the Share Charm, which offers a quick shareable screenshot option for use with other apps like messaging and email.

Windows Blue Charms

Windows Blue Charms (screenshot)

The Verge and R27 (Italian) both reported on these leaked features.


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Woo Hoo!
By json19 on 3/25/2013 1:25:26 PM , Rating: 2
I have been on the sidelines waiting for smaller live tiles and snapping to be on Windows 8 before purchasing! Nice job Microsoft!

RE: Woo Hoo!
By jjlj on 3/25/2013 1:51:28 PM , Rating: 2
I feel completely opposite. I can't believe the tiles are getting smaller. I can't see the text on tiles sitting 11' back from a 52" 1920x1080 tv. Even when using bigger tiles the text doesn't get bigger. I am sticking with windows 7 because of this, on my "htpc" anyway.

RE: Woo Hoo!
By datdamonfoo on 3/25/2013 2:12:07 PM , Rating: 2
How exactly are you using your HTPC? How often are you in the start screen? I use an HTPC hooked up to a 47" TV and I almost never see the start screen. I use XBMC and that's it. Otherwise, I use the desktop to browse the web, but chrome is pinned to the taskbar, so again, no need for the start menu. Plus, even if you do have to use the start screen, they have nice little pictures on the tiles that identify what they are.

RE: Woo Hoo!
By Luticus on 3/25/2013 2:15:59 PM , Rating: 2
Judging by the screen shots the smaller tiles are optional. It also appears that you can increase the tiles to even larger sizes judging by the "desktop" tile on one of the shots. Even still, I don't get your logic. "Windows 8 has smaller tiles so I'm going to rebel and use Windows 7 with the EVEN SMALLER start menu"... I will never understand. My HTPC is Win8 and I'm loving it.

RE: Woo Hoo!
By jjlj on 3/25/2013 2:46:11 PM , Rating: 2
Well, windows 8 is sort of centered around tiles/live tiles and to access your apps, unless you pin everything to the task bar which I practically do or put a shortcut on the desktop then you have to interact with tiles and when I cannot see the text on the tiles it's a real pain.

I'm not being a rebel. I use my "htpc" for more than watching shows and movies. I did my taxes, surf the web, use photo editing apps, remote desktop to access work and a whole bunch of other stuff. Interesting note, using microsoft RDP in windows 7 doesn't keep the same font DPI and icon sizing on the remote system. But since we use Citrix XenApp at work, XenApp does keep the same settings.

Interacting with windows 8 tiles is inevitable. The fact that I cannot see the font is a problem. Maybe this can help explain what I am talking about a little better than I can.

RE: Woo Hoo!
By Trisped on 3/25/2013 6:30:55 PM , Rating: 2
Interesting note, using microsoft RDP in windows 7 doesn't keep the same font DPI and icon sizing on the remote system.
Have you tried messing with the RDP options? On the Experience tab there is an option to allow "Visual styles" which might resolve your issue.

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