Microsoft confirmed an update for Windows 8.1, slated for release sometime in the spring of this year, with most benefits going to keyboard and mouse users. Joe Belfiore, the Microsoft executive overseeing phone, tablets, and PCs, revealed today what many have been speculating about over the last weeks.
“We are making improvements to the user interface,” the VP said, “that will naturally bridge touch and desktop.” He emphasized that the company remains committed to touch interfaces and has taken pains to ensure that the “targeted UI improvements” leave the current touch experience intact, but improve and extend the familiarity and convenience of the interface for users of traditional input devices like keyboards and mice.
Speaking in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, Belfiore acknowledged complaints about the unsuitability of touch interface conventions appearing in an operating system used on the desktop and intoned that Microsoft had focused on addressing those concerns in the upcoming release.
Easier launching and switching between applications via the task bar, and more right-click functionality are examples of the update bringing back utility for the day-to-day user that many had sorely missed after updating from version 7 and earlier.
Title bars at the top of Metro apps, a user interface convention found on essentially every consumer desktop operating system running today, are also reappearing, as are methods to more easily power down the user’s computer and conduct searches from the start screen. Belfiore commented, “We found people weren’t aware of where they should look in the UI.”
Belfiore also confirmed that licensing fees for the spring 8.1 updated of Windows will be reduced for original equipment manufacturers producing devices priced under $250, allowing “our partners to build lower cost hardware for a great Windows experience” at price levels more commensurate with consumer expectations. OEMs will be able to lower not only their licensing costs, but also their hardware specifications for the new release. Belfiore says PC makers can use as little as 1GB of working memory and 16GB of permanent storage in future devices created for Windows 8.1.
He also noted some improvements aimed at enterprise customers, including IE8 compatibility in Internet Explorer 11 and more comprehensive mobile device management applications. Server software will also get updated in the same time frame with small UI enhancements, security patches, bug fixes, and all previous updates rolled up for deployment. Existing server applications, both from third parties and Microsoft, are being tested and updated to function smoothly with the new release.
The update does not yet officially have a name, nor has Microsoft announced exactly when the update will become available. Reports indicate it likely the company will provide those details and other information about what to expect in the update at an industry conference in April of this year.
Microsoft has more comprehensive changes to Windows 8.1 planned for release next year in a version called, variously, Windows 8.2, Windows 9, or Threshold, and Belfiore added that the now confirmed spring arrival of this current update was part of Microsoft’s move to a more rapid release cycle.
By Brian Ryer