Windows Red

Windows 'Blue': Microsoft blows it

The forthcoming preview of Windows 8.1 is full of minor adjustments that do almost nothing to fix what's really wrong with Windows 8

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Considering that 60 percent of Windows 8 users launch a Metro app less than once per day on average, I don't expect to hear too many cheers, but the new (albeit limited) screen versatility definitely brings the Metro side up a bit from version 1.0 status. But the Metro interface hasn't yet hit the "resizable overlapping windows" stage pioneered at Xerox PARC in the early 1980s.

PC Settings, Metro's bastard son of the Control Panel, finally gets some respect. Microsoft says, "You can do things like change your display resolution, set your power options, see the make and model of your PC, change the product key, let you run Windows Update, and even join a domain." Imagine that. Details are forthcoming.

Many undefined Metro app improvements are promised as well

If you use any of Microsoft's Metro apps, you can expect to see changes, although Microsoft's being coy about the details.

There was a big wave of Metro app updates in late March -- Mail, Calendar, and People -- and there's been a flurry of other Metro app changes in recent months, but apparently more big changes are in store. ZDnet's Bott reports that the massive changes in Mail, Calendar, and People will arrive after the Win8.1 preview comes out on June 26 but before the final version of Win8.1 gets released this fall. Nobody knows at this point what changes are coming or when; if history is any indication, we may never see a definitive change log, even after the mods arrive.

The good news is that the Metro Xbox Music app has been "completely redesigned," Microsoft claims. It certainly couldn't get any worse. All 10 people who use Metro Music may notice -- or not.

Microsoft says it is also improving the Windows Store to make it easier to buy more apps. Before lapsing into exaltations, keep in mind that all 10 best-selling apps in the Windows Store right now are games.

The SkyDrive app is in for a major makeover, which is ... timely, considering Windows 8 users right now have to resort to the Desktop version of SkyDrive if they want to get any work done. The current Metro SkyDrive app leaves much to be desired, which leaves Windows RT tablet users out on the cold. The new SkyDrive app is promised to sync to the cloud automatically, but it only pulls files from the cloud and puts them on your computer if you give permission. The unsynced cloud-only files are represented by stubs -- file name, size, dates, and so on -- so you can find what you want in the cloud, even if you don't have room (or time) to download all your SkyDrive files. Rumor has it that the redesigned SkyDrive app may work better than the SkyDrive apps for Android and iOS. Time will tell.

Internet Explorer 11, says Microsoft, "is the only browser that is built for touch," though Google Chrome and Apple Safari users would strongly disagree. In Windows 8.1, Microsoft promises that "you can now adjust the appearance of modern IE11 to always show the address bar, and you can have as many open tabs as you like" -- just like IE7, yes? In addition, it sounds like IE11 will finally sync tabs across computers -- a feature I've been using in Chrome for the past year and Apple's Safari does as well.

Skype appears to be headed for improvements too. During the demo, Microsoft said you will be able to accept Skype calls from the lock screen without logging in. No word on whether the IM part of Skype -- the part that replaced Windows Messenger not long ago -- will get any attention.

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