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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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Needs a lot of improvement
By UpSpin on 3/25/2013 1:59:46 PM , Rating: 2
The calc app screenshot is a perfect example why forced full screen apps are stupid. Imagine you got that thing on a 24" monitor. Such a waste of space.

Most of my programs run in fullscreen mode (so I don't demonize the fullscreen Metro approach), but often I divide the screen to place a few programs next to each other. That should be possible with Blue too now. It's a pity that it wasn't possible from the beginning on.

And then there are those mini progams like calculator. Which don't need lots of space, but are useless if they cover the whole screen because then you don't see the numbers you wanted to enter, written on a different windows, any longer. Such apps should open automatically in a sidebar, so they don't disrupt your workflow. And you should be able to hide them, without closing them. Let's hope they did this somehow with the next release.

Microsoft tries to replace the whole desktop and windows with the Metro thing, which might be great, if properly executed. At least I can imagine that in the end, it offers a much better interface than the windows we currently use. At the moment however, it's a joke. And I doubt that it will be really usable with Blue. Maybe with another release they finally make it usable.

RE: Needs a lot of improvement
By datdamonfoo on 3/25/2013 2:15:44 PM , Rating: 1
Sorry, but this makes no sense. Does the calc app for android tablets and the iPad take up the whole screen? Of course they do, so what's the difference here? If you want the normal calculator, then open the desktop version. Also, you can hide the modern calc app (or any modern app), by swiping to the left or by pressing the window key or by pressing alt+tab. They stay active (but hidden) in the left task bar.
But you should know this already.
It doesn't seem like Microsoft is replacing the desktop with the "metro thing". There is still a full desktop mode in Windows 8, and that's really where most people spend their time. The start screen with its modern apps are just a different way of accessing information.

RE: Needs a lot of improvement
By UpSpin on 3/25/2013 5:08:04 PM , Rating: 2
MS can't remove the old desktop that easily, there are too many legacy programs, but they try to and they will do remove it sooner or later. You must be pretty ignorant if you think that MS wants to drive that dual Desktop/Metro thing forver. They'll try to make the desktop redundant, which is great, because you really don't need it.
Right now Metro is useless on a desktop, but as I tried to say, with the changes they made in Blue (multiple windows possible) they made it more attractive, even on a desktop. I normally always try to avoid cascading windows in Win 7, cascaded Windows are ineffective, worst you have to Alt+Tab all the time. If they find a solution to incorporate small windows in Metro as I described, then it's even superior to the old Windows style.
And why do you mention a smartphone. The screen of a smartphone is 4", the screen of a desktop 24". That's the difference! And even on a 5"+ device Samsung added split screens to make a better use of the screen and improve multi-tasking. And so will future Android versions have split screen options to make a better use of the tablet display and to prepare to run it on a desktop.
Android comes from a small screen and will be optimized to work on a desktop, Windows comes from a big screen and will be optimized to work on a phone. Both will meet each other in the middle, so I expect that in maybe two years there won't be a seperate OS for Smartphone, Tablet, Desktop, .. but a single one. At least that's what I hope.

Of course I know that I can switch back and forth between Metro and Desktop, but I think further.
And why do you mention the start screen at all? I haven't mentioned it!

RE: Needs a lot of improvement
By datdamonfoo on 3/26/2013 7:21:52 AM , Rating: 2
I simply don't buy into the argument that the MS is going to get rid of the desktop completely. It most likely isn't going to happen, at least not for many, many years.

The new start screen isn't "useless" on the desktop. It isn't any more useless or useful than the start button, aside from having live updates. It's a launcher with a much better search function. That's all.

I didn't mention smartphones, I mentioned tablets. You must be pretty naive to not understand why I brought them up. The new start screen is essentially tailored to mobile computing with touchscreen interfaces. That's where it becomes the "go to" screen of Windows 8. Tablets generally have screens about 10", the size of a netbook, not 4". Windows 8 already has split screen features for its modern apps. Again, Windows 8 STILL HAS THE DESKTOP. I know this because on my home rig with two monitors (27" and 24"), my laptop with a 13" screen, and my home theater PC with a 47" screen, I still have the desktop. I can still run multiple programs at once, and yes I can even use the modern start screen perfectly well.
The start screen is how you access modern apps! Do you not know this?

RE: Needs a lot of improvement
By Belard on 3/26/2013 3:10:42 PM , Rating: 2
what is "modern" about windows 8's TIFKAM?

its an ugly crap designed UI. any 8 bit computer can do TIFKAM.

RE: Needs a lot of improvement
By HackSacken on 3/27/2013 9:24:06 AM , Rating: 2
Not sure why you aren't up-voted more for this. I believe your points are valid. The Desktop doesn't seem to be getting replaced (at least anytime soon). Especially as they built upon it further in Win8. The enhancements are great and I welcome them.

For the guy talking about the full screen calculator - yes, it is a good point that the calculator shouldn't take the full screen. However, for the OS to encompass devices of all sizes, it comes to this. If you are on a desktop PC with a nice sized monitor, you probably aren't doing your taxes, or bills, etc in the Metro interface. Use the calculator there as datdamonfoo stated. If you are doing quick math with your Surface on your coffee table, you'd thank MS for the easy to use calc touch interface.

This is just one example, I'm sure this logic applies to other production items as well. There is a desktop for production use and the Metro interface for light to moderate consumption.

Maybe Microsoft was just too accommodating for everyone and it has backfired?

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh

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