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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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Options are better than no options
By TacticalTrading on 3/25/2013 2:54:51 PM , Rating: 4
This is ridiculous.

MS can make lemon aid out of a lemon in two easy steps.
1) Put a start button back on the Desktop task bar
2) By Default this option is turned OFF, but for those that want/need it, Make those people have to dig for it, so they can opt out of Metro UI in its entirety.

The mistake Microsoft made, and refuses to admit and or understand, is thinking all 1920x1080 displays are equal and or should be used the same way.

Desktop users are working on 20 plus inches at 1920x1080 or greater. The Surface Pro's screen is 1920x1080 but its ~10". (Got one for my mother last week, had it a few days setting up. Totaly awesome BTW) Metro UI makes sense (read: it works) on the small device. However, Remote Desktop to my 1920 display Desktop, with no scaling, and it just doesn't work. (Needed: Pocket Cloud App for Win 8 (anyone listening)) Everything is too small, yet amazingly remarkably clear, at that screen size.

The point: There is a cross, somewhere between ~12" and ~17" where people are comfortable and or prefer using... wait for it... wait for it... WINDOWS, meaning windowed applications, meaning the Windows 7 desktop.
The charm bar can still be there, and snapping Win 8 apps is great for those that like it.

The entirety of a 24 inch display need not be changed to launch a seldom used program. Until Microsoft accepts this fact, the Metro UI will continue receiving harsh reviews and (IMHO) will remain a drag on Windows sales.

RE: Options are better than no options
By GoodBytes on 3/25/2013 3:30:16 PM , Rating: 3
If you used Windows 8 or had a look at the Windows 8 Dev Preview when the Start Menu was there... you would see how the Start Menu breaks Windows 8.

If you had 70% Metro and Desktop on the other screen.. where is the Start Menu? You are an average user.. you see this... I guess you should press the Reset button 'cause you were screwed. Yes you can slide the separate bar or hit the window key, but hat's not the point. You had a visual button to access a Start Menu.. and it's no longer available.

Also what do you do in a Metro app when you want to show the Start Menu on a laptop or desktop? you can't slide to the right. You were screwed as well.

These were complaints, and Microsoft solved them by removing the Start Button and menu. And now you have clueless people like you that complain on feature that would break the OS as it did in the dev preview.

The issue that you see with tiles when you remote desktop is due to the difference in DPI settings between the 2 computers. If they both match, then you'll have no problem.
There is nothing Microsoft can do, beside dynamic DPI change without log-off/in, and not break or crash any running software.

By TacticalTrading on 3/26/2013 5:06:14 PM , Rating: 2
I see your point, on how a screen could wind up looking "broken"

The start button I envision, is associated with the desktop only. It would only work off a mouse click / screen touch. Always at the left of the desktop task bar, even when that isn't the left of the screen.

If a metro app (Icon noting its type) is selected, full screen it shall be.
If a metro app is active, then it is full screen. Snapped apps are most likely to trigger metro.
Think: All start buttons (Keyboard, Charm, swipe right|Left) activate the Metro UI. The only way to fire the "start button" is an actual click on the start button.

The key is making someone work to turn the thing on, and explaining how it works in the process.

Long ago, in the developer stage, users / beta testers didn't really understand what was going on. Now we do.

If you live in the desktop, don't hit the keyboard start button. MS can say, sorry we can't fix that one, because it is tied into the OS. Many will accept the default and live in the metro app/UI world. But if you want it, you should be able to work for it. It isn't either or. It is Metro, and well, if you must have it, You can dig for the setting to make it work.

Seriously, we are talking about a Click_Event triggered menu popup. It isn't like it is some kind of highly integrated mission critical kernel component of the OS.

The Metro UI/Start menu is like going back to a Windows 3 program group, only the group window only opens maximized. Limited options seems like a step backwards to me.

Thanks for listening

RE: Options are better than no options
By jjlj on 3/25/2013 3:46:51 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly the point I was trying to make. 1920X1080 on a 52" TV 11' away is painful.

I also agree about what you said about remote desktop. Luckily I stuck with windows 7 and when using Citrix XenApp the display settings are inherited from my windows 7 desktop.

"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer

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