The Microsoft Build developer conference is where Microsoft debuts upcoming software from the company. This year they focus on Windows 8.1.
This Microsoft Build conference is being held 8 months since the release of Windows 8. Today they released the first preview of Windows 8.1 and Steve Ballmer told the crowd that Microsoft is moving to a rapid-release schedule. From there he hyped the upcoming hardware from their OEM partners. Various Nokia Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone came first, followed by smaller tablets. They also announced that Windows Phone is coming to Sprint.
From there he talked about the growing importance of touch devices. Their studies shown that Windows 8 users on touch devices found the experience more enjoyable than pure desktop users. These users are even more happy than Windows 7 users.
Following this he talked about new applications coming to Windows 8. Flipboard, Facebook, and the NFL were companies that have applications coming in the near future.
Microsoft Build 2013: Windows 8.1
Windows 8.1 is the essentially a service pack to Windows 8. This upgrade is free. With Windows 8 Microsoft stepped away from the classic Windows user interface. The touch-friendly Modern UI runs smoothly on tablets like the Surface Pro.
Many desktop users do not favor the new interface. With Windows 8.1 Microsoft adds new features that let users return to a more familiar interface. The most notable of these features are the ability to boot directly into the desktop, and the return of the start button. Unfortunately the start button does not launch the familiar start menu last seen in Windows 7. By default the start button returns a user to the Windows 8 start screen. A configuration option does let you toggle the start button to go to a special All Apps screen.
Besides these changes Windows 8.1 includes the following:
- Onscreen keyboard gestures. When the auto-complete feature comes up slide your finger across the space bar and then tap it again to select the word. You can also slide up to easily access numbers.
- Mail app now has a swipe feature that lets you filter results from social networks, and newsletters.
- Smart search that knows to bring up music or maps depending on the search term.
- Music app ties into Xbox Music for easy discovery of new music. It was not mentioned, but it looked like a precursor to a Microsoft-branded streaming music store.
- Swipe down from the start screen to reach All Apps.
- Answer Skype calls from the lock screen.
- Photo retouching with the SkyDrive app.
- Stream content from a Windows 8.1 device to an Xbox One.
- New sizes for live tiles.
- The ability to use your desktop background as your start screen background.
- An upgrade to Snap allows you to snap more than two apps at a time. You can also control the width of each app instead of forcing one region into 1/3rd or 2/3rd of the screen.
- Automatic app updates.
- Better multiple monitor support. Each monitor now has its own scaling factor built-in.
- Personalized Windows Store powered by Bing and signals from your social profiles.
- A standard driver for 3D printing.
- Voice recognition with Bing.
- The Maps app is getting 3D imagery powered by Bing.
- Internet Explorer 11.
Microsoft Build 2013: Internet Explorer 11
Another major feature being added is support for the SPDY protocol. SPDY is a protocol created by Google that optimizes HTTP requests to lower load time. Unlike WebGL, Microsoft is not the last to support the SPDY protocol. At the time of this writing Safari nor the BlackBerry browser support SPDY. Opera only recently added it to their desktop and mobile browsers.
MPEG DASH is another new feature to IE11. MPEG DASH is a designed for high quality streaming video with variable bit rate. It also brings DRM related functionality.
On the HTML5 front, IE11 is the first browser to support drag and drop via touch. Form input types change the onscreen keyboard specific to the context. IE11 has added support for the Fullscreen API.
The developer tools are completely revamped in IE11. I feel like I’m in the minority that felt that the developer tools in IE10 were adequate. They weren’t as good as Firebug or the tools in Chrome, but they got the job done. The new developer tools contain browser profiles that allow you to easily emulate a Windows Phone environment. There is support for GPS simulation and orientation toggling. From what I’ve seen IE11 cannot easily load older versions of IE for easy debugging. It seems that Microsoft is pushing developers to use Virtual Machines from modern.ie.
Internet Explorer 11 will come to Windows 7.
That’s it for the major announcements from this year’s Microsoft Build conference. Do you like what you heard? Let us know.