Day one of Microsoft’s San Francisco based Build Conference kicked off with a strong keynote presentation bringing a lot of very welcome information about Windows 8.1. There’s a lot going on in this update including a couple surprises. Here’s what we’ve seen so far:
Windows 8.1 Free Preview Now Available!
As expected, it is now possible to download the free preview of Windows 8.1 from Microsoft. You can pick it up here: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/preview
Keep in mind that this is the developer preview. There are going to be features that are incomplete. Not everything will work properly and not all hardware is fully supported. Also, be aware that if you choose to upgrade to this preview version, you will be stuck upgrading again when the consumer release is made available at which time all applications will need to be reinstalled.
With that warning in mind, there is a lot to get excited about.
Start Button Revived
The long-awaited return of the Start Button has come. It doesn’t come with a Windows 7 style Start Menu as many of the more extreme detractors were insisting on, but there can’t be any question of discoverability anymore. It is exactly where you expect it to be on the taskbar now.
Boot to Desktop
It’s possible to set your computer to boot directly into the Desktop. Not much more you can say about that, but it’s been a frequent demand.
Internet Explorer 11
IE11 is included with the 8.1 Preview in a preview build of its own. It’s been touch optimized, works on a wider range of screen sizes, and has gotten a range of feature updates.
Cross-device syncing is a part of the new package. Power use has been improved. Up to 100 tabs are now supported per window with smart management to avoid excessive power and resource drain. WebGL support has finally been added. Plugin-free HTML5 video is also something to look forward to.
There’s more to it, of course, but that hits the high points.
Start Screen Improvements
As we learned in the past couple months through leaked builds, there are now two new Live Tile sizes to choose from. It makes organization easier, especially in situations where you have only icons to work with.
Changes to how the background is handled, as well as how the tile backgrounds are colored, will also go a long way toward making it a personalized interface.
New App & Charm Features
Now included with Windows 8.1 are a number of new apps (including Facebook and Flipboard), an improved Mail app, and extensive Bing integration. That integration will be available to just about any app as well as powering system-wide searching and a greatly improved Search Charm.
Native 3D Printer Support
It’s a bit of a novelty addition at this point, but Windows 8.1 will make Microsoft the first company to offer native support for 3D Printers. It might be a while before this becomes handy for the average user.
More to Come!
We’ll go into more detail on the developer-centric features after more details are revealed tomorrow. So far things are looking good, but the keynote didn’t have enough time to really reveal everything we wanted to know.