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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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Kinect and touch
By SupercillyMargo on 3/26/2013 2:50:13 AM , Rating: 3
One of the key omissions I see from nearly every argument is flexibility. The desktop essentially is a one dimensional computing world that has no future with all the stats confirming that mobile devices are the growth market with desktops stagnant. MS is doing everyone a favor by pushing its users to the next interface which is essentially a touch/kinect based one and people must be thankful that Windows 8 is that transitional phase where hopefully people will home in on this future right now. Unless Microsoft is wrong about the future then of course they will need to eat humble pie but if they are right then those cussing will hopefully remember what they said. The problem for MS is that they have quite a lot of dumbos using their systems after all as it was meant to be idiot proof. The only thing Win8 shows is there is only so far you can cocoon a bunch of idiots that you do need to break out sometimes.

RE: Kinect and touch
By snhoj on 3/26/2013 6:55:49 PM , Rating: 2
I think that windows 8’s introduction was always going to be difficult. It shows how the hardware and software feed off each other. They have introduced a touch centric operating system hoping for it to become main stream when a lot of the hardware still being sold doesn’t have a touch interface. The laptops that are available with a touch interface seem to command a considerable price premium over those that don’t. Many manufacturers are still introducing new models without a touch interface. Such is the delay waiting for the hardware to catch up. Touch screens for the desktop are still pretty thin on the ground and the desktop is probably where the touch interface makes the least sense. The bigger the screen the further you are likely to be from it and the scale of gestures go from single hand span to something much larger. I’m sure Microsoft has something clever planned for a PC Kinect device to overcome this but once again the hardware is not here yet. May be a small wireless touch screen mirroring the big screen would be the way to go or having a screen behind a track pad on your keyboard. Mean while I think Win8 is a transitional operating system with a bit of a split personality. If Microsoft had included the start menu it would be more so and many users would gravitate to what they know by just using the desktop. Change can be painful both for Microsoft’s bottom line and for frustrated end users having to learn a new operating system but change over time is inevitable.

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