More Refined “Windows, Windows Windows”

If you missed what happened at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, here’s an overview of everything that Microsoft revealed (or revealed again) at the first keynote of BUILD.

Miscellaneous

Microsoft is now on a more rapid development and release process. Notably, this BUILD conference is much sooner than previous developer conferences – 8 months since the last one. The Windows 8.1 preview is available here. It lays new groundwork for developers to do great work. Moreover, new form factors such as ~8″ Windows tablets are also very important. In addition, also previewed were new workhorse 2-in-1 tablets that are both powerful docked, lightweight undocked. As part of tradition, all attendees will receive a free Acer Iconia 8.1″ and a Surface Pro to take home. As stated by Steve Ballmer, Windows 8.1 will provide one innovative (user) experience for everyone from work to play. And then there was “Windows Windows Windows”. Steve Ballmer further stated that the future of Windows is very bright.”

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 refines the Windows 8 vision is also a response to the industry’s latest trends. Microsoft has been working on continuous improvements to Windows 8, with over 800 updates since release. Due to Microsoft’s intense lobbying efforts, there will be new Windows 8 apps coming such as Flipboard, Facebook, and NFL. Notably, the Windows application ecosystem is second to none, in sheer size, as telemetrics from Microsoft indicate that over 2.3 million are used, including desktop apps. Overall, Windows 8.1 “refines the blend” (to use a coffee analogy) between modern and desktop applications. As part of this, the Start screen is now optimized for portrait mode, instead of the reflowed landscape previously used. New on-screen-keyboard gestures, for example, allow swiping left-right on spacebar for suggestion selection, and swiping up on keys for symbols. Microsoft has made updates to all apps.

For example, the Mail app features major improvements such as the power-pane side bar, filtering emails through social, newsletters, and favorite people. The Xbox Music app has been redesigned, using a new UI with a left sidebar, a search box, and vertical scrolling. It has Share charm support which automatically find songs from webpages and creates playlists. Smart search results from the Search charm integrate weather, maps, photos, travel, music – it’s “not just a list of links but things you can do”. The lockscreen has been redesigned and displays a live slideshow of your photos. You can also answer Skype calls and take photos from it. There are more personalization options through new wallpaper and expanded color selection. A drag-up gesture allows you to access All applications from the Start screen.

Microsoft has also been working on integrating SkyDrive into Windows, and you can see it in Windows 8.1 through the native SkyDrive file integration. Windows 8.1 also features basic photo built-in, most notably in the Camera and Photos app. In addition, various improvements have been made to the desktop. For example, the Start button has been reintroduced as the Start ‘tip’. You can now also boot directly to the desktop. In addition, since you can use the same background for the desktop and Start screen, your tiles float on the desktop. In addition, the Start button can default to the Start screen or All Apps. App snapping has been improved and is now more flexible featuring multiple snap sizes. Moreover, two apps can be snapped side-by-side by opening links. DPI scaling, building on Windows 7 and 8, now can be applied in real-time instead of requiring a logoff. In addition, Windows 8.1 is smarter about multi-monitor DPI scaling for connecting low-res displays with high-res displays. And it’s supported by all desktop and modern apps natively.

Developer improvements

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to backward compatibility, all existing apps are supported by Windows 8.1 and will even run better. The WinRT team made the announcement that there are “over 5000 new APIs ” in Windows 8.1. To help developers build apps, the Visual Studio 2013 preview is available now, featuring new powerful performance and power usage analysis tools. Since WinRT uses an asynchronous programming model, Visual Studio now features support for debugging asynchronous processes. The wizard for Windows push notifications has been simplified. Hardware accelerated support has been added for MPEG DASH and WebGL in Windows 8.1 browser and native apps.

The Windows 8.1 WebView control can now be composited/overlaid with other controls. In addition, Windows Store improvements make it easier to find and buy apps. The Store now provides personalized app picks powered by the Bing recommendation engine with apps installed, ratings, and similar people. Related apps, which are apps by the same developer, allow for cross-merchandise opportunities. In addition, all Windows Store apps will receive automatic app updates. DirectX comes with a new tiled resources support. Developed in collaboration with AMD and NVIDIA, it allows high-resolution resources to be dynamically loaded for a resources-limited graphics card. And it’s only available for Windows 8.1 and the Xbox One. In addition, Windows 8.1 also comes with native 3D printer, driver, and app printing support. Support for the Lego Education robot was also shown in a demo.

Bing platform

As mentioned during BUILD, Bing has now 17.4% of US search engine market share. It powers Facebook, Yahoo, and Apple Siri. And now, Bing will be launched as a platform for all developers. The new Bing platform will provide third-party developers the same capabilities as first-party apps. In addition, there’s a new mapping control with 3D mapping / flyover capability. Bing will also provide text-to-speech and speech-to-text processing. Finally, a camera scanning API will allow for text to OCR conversions and back. Overall, the Bing platform will provide apps with eyes, ears, and mouths.

Here are some photos of the keynote stolen from Long Zheng’s Flickr.

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