Microsoft is rolling back the covers (a bit more) on May 30 about its Windows 8.1 release, due out this fall.
As readers of this blog know, new elements of the pending 8.1 (codenamed Windows Blue) release include tweaks to the interface, including the addition of a new kind of Start Button, a boot-straight-to-desktop option, and the ability to switch to an "all apps view." We've also seen, thanks to some previously-leaked Windows Blue builds, the option to include differently sized Metro-Style tiles, as well as new and hopefully improved Snap options (including a 50-50 view) in Windows Blue.
Microsoft officials publicly confirmed all of these new features on May 30 in a post to the Windows blog. My ZDNet colleague Ed Bott has more "first look" details on these, plus a couple of other Blue features Microsoft shared this week with pre-selected members of the media.
The Start button is back. But that's just one of a very long list of changes you'll find in Windows 8.1, which will be available as a preview in a few weeks and will be released before the end of the year. Don't let the name or the price tag (free) fool you: this is a major update. Here's what's inside.Read now
As I reported last week, there are also a number of enhancements to search coming to Windows Blue. In fact, some at Microsoft claim that the search enhancements to Blue are actually the biggest and most far-reaching of the new features included in this update to Windows 8.
On May 30, Microsoft officials publicly confirmed that Windows Blue will include an updated search experience that allows users to search across apps, devices and the Web from inside Blue. (The new Blue search experience won't search inside of users' mail for relevant results, but that capability may come later, once Microsoft indexes mail stores, officials told me.) In addition, the largely esoteric search experience in Windows 8 will be made more discoverable with Blue.
With Blue, one way to search for content — whether its on the Web, inside apps, files or in a user's SkyDrive cloud storage system — will continue to be via the Search charm. Users also will be able to just start typing from the Start Screen to find information, as they already can with Windows 8.
But with Blue, Microsoft has tweaked how it connects and indexes users' information, so that typing a search term like "Marilyn Monroe" will yield results across all local and cloud-based repositories of data. The results of a search will be arranged in a horizontally scrollable form.
If you've used the Bing AppEx team's Travel app, or any of that team's other handful of cloud-connected apps, you already have an understanding of how Microsoft is curating, aggregating and presenting this data. The new Windows Blue search results will look quite similar. The various screen captures in this post, provided by Microsoft, show off the way search results will look with Windows Blue.
(Speaking of the Bing AppEx team, there are at least two new Windows 8/Windows RT apps from that team that will be coming with Windows Blue. The AppEx team is building a recipe app that includes gesture recognition — for those wanting to flip pages without their floury hands touching their PCs and tablets — as well as a new fitness-focused app, Microsoft officials said today.)
As I blogged last week, the search experience in Windows 8.1 is not voice-enabled or controlled. Microsoft officials confirmed this week when I asked. But they didn't entirely rule out voice search becoming an option, either through the Kinect for Windows sensor or some other way, at some point in the future.
Microsoft plans to continue to reveal new features and functionality in Windows 8.1, drip by drip. Officials said today that the team will disclose more management and security features coming in Blue during the Microsoft TechEd conference in New Orleans, which kicks off next week, on June 3.
A public preview of Blue is due out on June 26. Last I heard, Microsoft is still trying to hit its August 2013 release-to-manufacturing (RTM) target for Blue.