What does Windows Blue have in store?



The return of the Start button, a boot straight-to-desktop option - we look over the rumoured changes part of the first major upgrade to Windows 8, known as Blue.

Microsoft is to unveil a preview version of its first major update to Windows 8 at a developers' conference in the US next month - so what's in store?

According to Microsoft, the update, nicknamed Windows Blue, will build on the "bold vision" set forward with Windows 8 to deliver the "next generation" of tablets and PCs. Let's look over the key points.

Windows 8


What is Windows Blue?

Windows Blue is the pretty cool codename for the upcoming update to the Windows 8 operating system, although the update won't actually be called that.

A sneak peek of the refresh will be unveiled at Build, a three-day developers' event taking place in San Francisco next month, revealed Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president for Windows, in a blog post this week, with the update to be fully available to users sometime later this year.

Importantly, Blue will mark a shift to Microsoft providing annual updates to its OS - a little like how Apple publishes its OS X versions.

What changes can we expect to see in Windows 8.1?

Some pretty big ones, if the rumours prove true.

A number of technology blogs, including The Verge and ZDNet, report that Microsoft could be set to make two major changes: bringing back the Start button and introducing a boot-to-desktop option.

The return of the Start button, which would no doubt go down well with many Microsoft customers, has not been formally confirmed, but we'll get a better idea of the firm's plans at the Build event when the Blue preview is rolled out.

Another possible change is to allow users to boot their PCs straight to the desktop, rather than having to navigate the tile-based menu screen first. Currently Windows 8 doesn't allow you to go straight to the traditional desktop layout when they boot up - although it should be noted you can resume to it.

In an interview with TechRadar, Ian Moulster, Windows product manager, said it would be "highly unlikely" that Microsoft would ditch the desktop.

"I think it's a continuation of us always building on what's there. Windows 8 is built on Windows 7 and starts from where Windows 7 stops, and I don't think there will be a change to that approach. We'd be crazy to throw anything away," he said.

Desktop

PC 'very much alive'

Microsoft's says its focus is all about mobility - it's looking to make Windows 8 more mobile-friendly, without forgetting the importance of the PC.

In a blog Q&A this week, Tami Reller, Microsoft's chief marketing officer, addressed rumours of the demise of the PC, saying: "The PC is very much alive and increasingly mobile. The PC is also part of a much broader device market of tablets and PCs.

"Windows 8 was built to fully participate in this broader and increasingly mobile device market. The PC part of the market is rapidly evolving to include new convertible devices and amazing new touch laptops and all-in-ones."

Apps, apps, apps

It is thought that Windows Blue could also see some new Windows 8 apps introduced and a new feature called Snap Views, which would allow users to share their screens 50:50 between apps, rather than the current 70:30.

Sky Drive, Microsoft's popular cloud-based file hosting app that allows users to store photos and documents, is also to be revamped, gaining its own entry in the Settings menu and allowing you to view the amount of free space left in your account.

Big change

"Windows 8 is a big, ambitious change," Tami said. "While we realise that change takes time, we feel good about the progress since launch, including what we've been able to accomplish with the ecosystem and customer reaction to the new PCs and tablets that are available now or will soon come to market."

Let's keep our eyes peeled for the Build event in June, when we'll get confirmation on a lot of these rumours one way or the other.