Windows 'Blue' will leave Microsoft customers seeing red

Windows 8 customers have registered their complaints loud and clear. Will Windows 8.1 prove Microsoft is even listening?

Reflecting on my expectations for Microsoft's forthcoming Windows "Blue," I'm reminded of a favorite "Deep Thought" by Jack Handey, from "Saturday Night Live." In this passage, instead of taking his little nephew to Disneyland, Handey takes him to a burned-out warehouse and tells him Disneyland has burned down:

He cried and cried, but I think that deep down, he thought it was a pretty good joke.

Is Microsoft playing some kind of trick on us? Forgive the corniness, but the early scoop on Windows "Blue" has this tech analyst seeing red.

[ J. Peter Bruzzese urges: Forget about Windows 'Blue' -- stay focused on Windows 7. | The Windows 'Blue' burden: Saving the PC itself. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

The big whoop about Windows "Blue"

Two months ago I said, "Forget about Windows 'Blue' -- stay focused on Windows 7." But it's hard to forget about a trainwreck in the making, and I eschewed my own advice to run down what strikes me as odd about the positive response the next version of Windows is getting from many in the press. Hint: Incremental enhancements don't do it for me.

Sure, Windows "Blue" has been officially given the name Windows 8.1, which doesn't indicate a major overhaul by any stretch of the imagination. On the plus side, even if I'm not happy with it, I can't help but appreciate the price tag. It's going to be a free download from the Windows Store sometime later this year, with a public preview scheduled for release on June 26 at Microsoft's Build conference.

For those of you who haven't been following the bevy of articles and slideshows extolling the top 10 favorite features of Windows "Blue" and whatnot, allow me to educate you on the ones getting thumbs-up. Most of these features are designed to make Windows 8 more mouse-friendly and easier to navigate for folks who don't have a touchscreen. Here's a list of known features:

  • New apps: There are apparently a few new apps like Alarms, Calculate, Sound Recorder, Files (a basic file manager), and Movie Moments (for trimming the start and endpoints of a video clip). These feel very Windows Phone to me, and though they may be good for the tablet crowd (especially with rumors that Windows "Blue" will be friendly for smaller screens), I'm not that impressed.
  • Navigation and tile enhancements: Some of the features expected for Windows "Blue" include the option for larger (four times the size) or smaller (four times less) tiles, so you can make your Start Screen more cluttered -- ahem, I mean personalized to your taste. There will also be real-time customization of the Start screen, rather than taking you to a separate page to make changes. There is an easier navigation setup for accessing apps from a mouse thanks to a new arrow on the Start screen for the Apps page. Big deal.
  • Kiosk mode: I like this one for some situations. You can use a feature called Assigned Access to configure the device to run a single app for a specific user.
  • Internet Explorer 11: There are still two versions of IE11, where the Desktop IE is different from the tablet version, and sites aren't working well with the Metro/Modern UI. Apparently IE11 comes with improved developer tools, but I'll hold my commentary on the browser.
  • ReFS support: This is a file system built off NTFS and released with Windows Server 2012. ReFS offers greater stability and reliability. Finally, this is an improvement I can get behind. If you haven't read up on what ReFS is meant to accomplish, check out the Windows 8 blog on ReFS.
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