Over at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, Texas, the keynote speeches have just rounded up and senior Microsoft execs have been fleshing out plans for the upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. Included this morning was a far bigger insight into the new features of 8.1, including several features which weren’t revealed at BUILD last month.
The biggest news is that CFO Tami Teller has confirmed that OEMs will receive Windows 8.1 by August, so there should be PCs for sale with the new OS in time for Christmas. The upgrade from 8 to 8.1, however, will be free and via a one-click install via the Windows Store.
Teller’s colleague, Jensen Harris, gave a live demo of Windows 8.1. Hitting the new Start button now floats the Start screen over the top of the desktop in a way described more as a dashboard than a menu.
A feature I particularly like is that the Music app now includes a built-in scraper, which can read information intelligently off a webpage. Send a band’s webpage to the Music app via the Sharing function, for example, will automatically create a playlist of all songs mentioned on that page. Using Music for this is just a start, there’s a lot of interesting stuff that you could with similar technology in other apps.
Harris says that the most important overhaul, however, is the Search function.
“20 billion searches are performed every month on Windows PC,” Harris says, “We figured that by improving that, we could improve 20 billion things for our users.”
A search will now call up apps, music, documents and webpages that contain the search term, as well as pictures and anything on your Skydrive storage. Filtering results is incredibly fine-grained – you can even refine picture searches by colour, for example. Another nice improvement is that there’s deep-linking between search and apps – so if you click on a search result from Wikipedia, for example, it’ll open in the Wikipedia app rather than Internet Explorer.
Harris also demoed the recipe app with hands-free control – wave hands to turn pages rather than touch the screen with hands covered in flower – and Miracast video streaming that’s now included in all Windows 8.1 devices. Essentially, that means you can send 1080p video from one device to another – including a smart TV – in a single swipe. Using the same tech, Harris showed off how a teacher might use Windows 8.1 to turn a TV into a white board.
New, smaller devices were also shown off, which I’ll be catching up on later. Eight inch tablets are the new big thing, though, and Dell is about to release one for just $299 – less than an iPad 16GB.
Other interesting titbits from the keynotes include the sheer size of Skype now: 300 million people use it every month, and more than two billion minutes of Skype chat are caried out every day.
More updates throughout the week, including Steve Ballmer’s big vision to come.