Windows Blue made an early appearance on the internet over the weekend and we've had a chance to experience some of its new features. The upgrade to Windows 8 looks like it's going to bring a host of improvements, fixes, and some new built-in apps too, but the biggest changes are on the UI side. Microsoft now supports smaller Live Tiles and the company is changing the way you arrange them on the Start Screen. Moving ever closer to Windows Phone, you can pick between large, medium, and small Live Tiles for applications. The only exception is the desktop tile that includes an extra large option.
UI tweaks and additional Snap Views
Color options have also been updated slightly, with the ability to pick from a number of shades in the sidebar of the Start Screen. Aside from this, the UI is largely the same as Windows 8. New Snap Views allow you to snap apps side-by-side using 50 percent each, but on high resolutions you can also snap up to four applications alongside each other. The biggest changes are really in the settings part of the Start Screen. Users can now access new networking and apps sections that provide access to additional options not available in Windows 8. Networking lets you switch connections on and off, and there's a quick way to add VPN settings too. In the new Apps section you can view how much storage apps are taking up and also take control of when notifications are shown thanks to a new quiet mode.
SkyDrive plays a bigger role in Windows Blue
SkyDrive looks like it's going to play a bigger role in Windows Blue. A new settings panel shows options for backing up devices to SkyDrive and automatically uploading photos or videos that are taken with the camera. The settings menus are largely works in progress, so it's unclear exactly how deep the SkyDrive integration goes, but it's clear that Microsoft's strategy is to ensure it hooks users into the cloud. We'll likely see some further improvements here as the new operating system takes shape.
Microsoft is also tweaking its Charms slightly. On the Share Charm you can now take a screenshot and share it easily, or if you're in Internet Explorer you can simply share a link with other applications. The Devices Charm includes a new Play option, that looks similar to the PlayTo functionality found in Windows 7 and Windows 8. The Search Charm hasn't been overhauled just yet, but we're expecting further improvements to allow Windows Blue users to surface information from directly within the Search Charm.
New built-in apps include a Windows Movie Maker replacement
Additional built-in apps are also available, including an Alarms app that lets you set recurring alarms, and a sound recorder to quickly record audio with a microphone. Microsoft is also building a Windows 8-style calculator that includes scientific modes and an option to convert weight, temperature, volume, and more. The final and fourth application is Movie Moments which appears to be a Windows Movie Maker replacement. The app lets you add captions to movies, with options to export to the pictures folder. All the new built-in apps are fairly basic right now, but we expect they'll be fully functioning by the time Blue ships.
Overall Windows Blue is in its early stages, but it feels like there are some much needed changes here. It's clear that Microsoft doesn't want users to jump into desktop mode to have to change settings and the company is clearing improving this heavily. Windows Blue is expected to enter public preview over the coming months, with a final release due later this year.