5 ways Windows 8.1 will put Microsoft back on the map

If Windows 8 saw Microsoft lose its way, Windows 8.1 is handing it the satnav and calculating the route to a “very, very bright” future

When Steve Ballmer was wrapping up his Microsoft Build 2013 keynote, he was keen to make one thing very clear: “The future of Windows is very, very bright.”

And that’s not raw hyperbole. While plenty of people have prematurely written off Windows as a future also-ran, engineers have had the OS up on blocks and given Microsoft’s world-dominating platform a place on the future podium of computing. The resulting hotrod puts desktop horsepower and slick handling into mobile computing in a way its competitors can’t match. Here’s why Windows’ race isn’t run yet.

Take two computers into the shower?

An Android tablet or iPad has limits. Come the hour you need to knuckle down and do some serious work, you close the cover and fire up the PC. With Windows 8.1 Microsoft has laid out its stall. Much was made of the new convertible tablets (aka two-in-one devices) that pack the grunt of a full PC with the snap-off-and-play joy of a touchscreen tablet. And with Intel Haswell silicon, they’re promising massive power and incredible battery life to boot.

Lack of familiarity breeds contempt

It turns out forcing your customers to adopt news ways of working isn’t a popular move. Okay, so no one took to the streets because they couldn’t boot to desktop in Windows 8 – nor because sharing two apps on a screen had to be done in an immutable 70:30 split – but neither did these idiosyncracies enamour Microsoft’s reinvention for the touchscreen age to the change-averse public at large. Windows 8.1 gives you the option to boot to a traditional desktop environment (or the Start Screen) and will let up to eight apps share the screen in (limited) sizes of your choosing.

More after the break...

Media and the Xbox One

We hear you’re getting a PS4. Shame. Newer Windows 8.1 devices will be able to stream media directly to Microsoft’s forthcoming Xbox One console. Not only that, but developers will now be able to use the front-facing cam as an Xbox Kinect-lite style gesture control (the keynote demo offered flipping pages in a recipe app with food-covered hands as an example). Is Microsoft finally joining all of its dots? It’s getting there.

Apps

Look, no one’s going to pretend the (newly polished) Windows Store is already competing with the App Store or Google Play. But, finally, Microsoft has begun its journey towards app nirvana. Facebook and Flipboard were given a shout-out, but there’s a trickle trend of other essentials coming to the platform. And successful developers are being offered a greater slice of the revenue pie than those carved off by Apple and Google. When money starts talking, we think developers will listen.

Outlook, Xbox Music Radio and Bing

Even if the external devs take a while to get the message, Microsoft’s own people have been working nights on their own web-based programs. Outlook’s been given an injection of new mail management tools, Xbox Music Radio has turned up with an enviable depth of artist data and automated playlist creation and Bing – well, Bing’s got everywhere. You won’t see a Bing app in Windows 8.1 because it’s deeply embedded into every part of the OS. And developers have been handed the toolkit to mine its web-crawled encyclopaedia for their own apps.

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