Nothing but Windows Blue Skies From Now On?
Windows 8, Microsoft's radical reimagining of its flagship OS, has been met with decidedly mixed reactions. However, for those who have taken the plunge, the leak of a build of Windows Blue -- its next update -- has stirred some excitement. It looks as though many of the issues that annoyed users in the initial release will be addressed, and tweaks to the UI will make it more nimble and user-friendly.
Rumors about Windows Blue, the next iteration of Microsoft's flagship operating system, have been juiced up with the release of leaked screen shots and videos over the weekend.
The new system lets users personalize the screen from the side and swipe in from any edge. Windows Blue offers a variety of color choices for the screen background and includes several new apps -- Alarms, Calculate, Sound Recorder, and Movie Moments.
Windows Blue also integrates Internet Explorer 11 and appears to allow syncing with multiple devices.
"Overall, Microsoft is again focusing sharply on ease of use, which is what made Windows 95 so different and so much better than the prior versions," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "It feels like the company is getting its mojo back."
What Windows Blue May Offer
Windows Blue takes the app-snapping feature of Windows 8 a step further. Win 8 lets users snap an app to the side of the screen and run another beside it, but the first app takes up 75 percent of the screen. Windows Blue appears to have an option that lets users split the screen evenly between two apps.
The PC settings option of Windows Blue now contain many of the options currently hidden within the control panel, based on the leaked info.
It appears Windows Blue will deepen integration of Microsoft's SkyDrive app. In Windows 8, this app can only access files previously stored in a user's SkyDrive account, and it doesn't let users sync new files to the cloud. However, a Files submenu hidden under the new SkyDrive section of the PC Settings indicates a file-syncing option might be added in Windows Blue.
A nascent version of IE 11 is included in the leaked Windows Blue build. It apparently has a "Show synced tabs" option that's not yet operative.
Personalization of the screen looks easy, and Windows Blue facilitates sharing of screen shots of apps in use.
What's to Like
The snap-app and SuperSkyDrive features, as well as integration with IE 11, are what Enderle considers most important in Windows Blue.
"The ability to snap the apps and split them on one side of the screen allows you to have more apps running," he explained. As for SuperSkyDrive, "I've become addicted to this method of moving files between the machines I have. [Windows Blue] improves this feature substantially and makes it even more transparent."
IE 11 offers a "much higher level of syncing between machines for things like tabs so you maintain a consistent experience across all your machines automatically," Enderle continued.
Microsoft also has "moved the control panel more aggressively into the vastly easier-to-use Windows 8 experience, making it far easier to get the experience you want from the system," Enderle noted. Cleaning up the control panel issue, improving built-in apps, and smoothing out autoupdate processes "are key priorities for usability for me," Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld. "This is especially so for [Windows] RT devices, which aim to go head to head with the iPad but are falling short for now."
Microsoft declined to comment for this story.
More Blue Talk
There has been speculation that Microsoft might get rid of the Desktop feature in Windows Blue.
However, "Microsoft has to realize that the bulk of expensive PCs will be purchased for their Desktop mode applications," Hilwa pointed out. "That is not going to change that fast. Better touch support for Desktop mode is what will make Desktop more usable and Windows 8 PCs more valuable."
It's been reported that "Windows Blue" is the codename for updates to Windows Phone, Windows Server and Windows Services.
Aligning the Windows Blue developer model with Windows Phone "would go a long way to stimulate app development, which is now fragmented across [Windows 8 and Windows RT] and slower than it should be," Hilwa commented. "Full convergence with Windows Phone may take yet another release."
Microsoft "has kept the server and desktop products tightly linked and has been working the Phone platform into the process over time," Enderle said.
"The features being highlighted should have analogs on the client side of this effort, but servers, for the most part, won't need them" he noted. "But there are likely plumbing improvements going on underneath that will impact all of the platforms."