Microsoft is is working on a new version of Windows, which is expected to be available sometime this year.
It’s codenamed “Windows Blue” and a lot of details about it have leaked, including an early version that several people were able to install on their PCs and Windows tablets.
That version showed that Microsoft is fixing a lot of stuff that people really hated about Windows 8.
That’s important because response to Microsoft’s big new operating system, Windows 8, has been pretty underwhelming.
Windows Blue will be more like a big update to Windows 8 than a brand new operating system.
It could be called Windows 8.1. That name comes from an image leaked on the Polish Windows message board at winforum.eu which showed a version of Windows called Windows 8.1 Pro.
Most experts believe that Windows Blue will lead PC makers to build smaller, less expensive 7-inch Windows tablets.
When Windows 8 first shipped in October, it could only support 10.1-inch, or bigger, screens.
Microsoft just quietly changed its rules for manufacturers to include a new resolution for Windows 8 touch screen devices: 1024 x 768 pixels. That's the same resolution as Apple's 7.85-inch iPad Mini.
One thing no one expects is that Windows Blue will be used as Microsoft's next phone operating system, currently called Windows Phone 8.
Microsoft deliberately took a different path from Apple in that it turned its PC operating system into its tablet operating system and left its phone as a separate OS. (Apple uses one OS for its Mac PCs and another, iOS, for the iPhone and iPad.)
Microsoft is not likely to merge Windows Phone with Windows 8 for Windows Blue.
Chinese site Digitimes reported that Microsoft might merge Windows 8 and Windows RT into one OS.
That would essentially kill RT, the version of Windows 8 that runs on low-power ARM processors, producing tablets with longer battery life. But Windows 7 software doesn't run on RT and sales for RT tablets have been disappointing so far, so the talk has been that RT might be killed.
We doubt this rumour. It seems that RT will also get a Windows Blue update which could be called Windows 8.1 RT.
A lot of information has leaked about new-and-improved features in Windows Blue.
It will let users customise it in a lot of new ways. For instance, you can set different tile sizes so that tiles become really small, the same size as they are on Windows Phone. This lets you put more of them to your Start screen. Or you can make them really big. Plus, you can group them.
You can also personalise the colours and wallpaper on your Start screen (though the Settings charm), and adjust some touch settings.
Windows Blue will have more options for Snap Views letting users place up to four apps side-by-side.
Snap Views will also allow users to use Windows 8-style applications across multiple monitors.
Microsoft has integrated its cloud file storage service, SkyDrive, even more tightly with Windows Blue.
There are new options to automatically backup devices and photos to Skydrive, similar to Windows Phone.
Microsoft added a lot more settings to let users set up the device the way they like it.
There's new privacy settings that lets you control location information.
It also added new network settings that does things like easily connect to different networks and control a home network.
There's more control over notifications, too. You can even turn them off during certain hours.
Plus, there's a new setting to control how files are opened.
It looks like Microsoft will be adding a few new touch-friendly apps to Windows 8.1, too.
One is an alarm app, which lets you set up multiple alarms. There's a new calculator app, and a new sound recording app.
Microsoft has also added a new basic video editing app called Movie Moments.
One big area for Windows Blue is new features for various 'Charms.' Charms are controls that pop up when you swipe the right end of the screen.
There are more options for sharing pages from Internet Explorer from the Share Charm, for instance. The Devices Charm has new options when you play music or video.
One thing the leaked Windows Blue version didn't have yet was an improved Search Charm. Eearly reports had talked about new and better search on Windows Blue and we expect Microsoft is still working on this.
With Windows Blue, Microsoft made it easier to access the number keyboard with a new keyboard gesture.
Touch and swipe up on a key to access the number on that key.
This next version of Windows is expected to be released as a free upgrade to Windows 8.
No doubt that there will be much more that Microsoft will add to Windows Blue before it releases it, expected later this year.
Windows Blue will be a big topic at the Microsoft Build conference for Windows developers in June. That's when Microsoft has promised to share more details.
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