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Build 2013 keynote: Microsoft unveils Windows 8.1, pledges 'rapid release' schedule

Mark Hachman | June 27, 2013
Microsoft executives formally unveiled Windows 8.1 at its Build 2013 conference, pledging rapid, responsive updates will empower its developer base.

"Refine the blend"
Finally, Ballmer moved to the meat of the presentation, the changes that it had made to make Windows 8.1 a bit more consumer friendly—or in Ballmer's words, to "refine the blend" between the Start page and the Desktop, among other changes.

Ballmer said that the way in which the Desktop and the Start page will be integrated will represent a better blend of both, with boot to Desktop, common backgrounds between the Desktop and the Start page, and other features bringing both together.

Julie Larson-Green, who runs the Windows division at Microsoft. said she was proud of how responsive Microsoft's engineering team had become.  The company had over 800 updates to the products since Microsoft launched Windows 8 last October, and Windows 8.1 is the biggest.

In portrait mode, the new Start screen works well on the new small-form-factor devices, Larson-Green said. The Twitter app has been designed for the new, smaller form factor. With Windows 8.1, she said that Microsoft had added gestures to the on-screen keyboard, where users can slide their fingers across, tap, and then the word appears. Users can also press and hold to access.

Apps are the key
Microsoft's message at Build 2013 is that apps rule—both its own, and the ones created by third-party developers.

Larson-Green showed off the new Mail app, due in the fall. Users will be able to banish or Sweep emails from a certain sender, and then segregate automated emails, such as those from Facebook and Twitter, or subscribed newsletters, into their own folder.

Free music streaming from Xbox Music will comes with Windows 8, Larson-Green said, together with the ability to create a playlist from music it finds on the Web, she said.

Larson-Green also showed off personalization features, such as the ability to show photos via the lock screen, the ability to take a Skype call from the lock screen, and Windows 8.1's ability to add personalized backgrounds. She also briefly explained integrated photo editing, plus new apps including Food & Drink, which can be manipulated via hands-free mode. Basically, all the apps "in Windows 8.1 have either been written for Windows 8.1 or updated for it," she said. Those apps can be snapped together,  with four per widescreen monitor.

Larson-Green also showed off a preview of alpha code for PowerPoint, designed for the Modern experience on both Windows RT and Windows 8. Microsoft did not say when the full release for Office, within the Modern environment, would be released.

Antoine Leblond took the stage to unveil the improvements in Windows 8.1 for developers, which will be described in 100 sessions or so across the conference.


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