An update to Windows 8 called Windows Blue recently leaked online. This update contains new features focused on usability and stability. Among the updates includes an improved Start Screen with resizable tiles, a new settings menu, better SkyDrive support, and added apps. While this isn’t the biggest update, Windows Blue still provides some helpful updates for Windows 8 users. The overall theme of Windows Blue is providing features and options from the Desktop right on the Start Screen or other menus.
We’ll show you all these new features to showcase just how much Windows Blue changes Windows 8.
Beyond Windows 8
While what we’ve tested is a leaked upgrade of Windows 8, there is some evidence that Windows Blue is a much larger standardization across multiple Microsoft platforms. ZDNet has reported that Blue will slowly roll out updates for Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone, Windows Services, and Windows Servers. Sources at Ma-Config.com found evidence of a Windows Blue Radius server from a member of the Windows Team’s LinkedIn profile. However, this has since been edited.
Within the leaked version of Windows Blue we can see a few changes that fit closer to a unified Windows. The user interface and integration of small size Live Titles is nearly identical to Windows Phone 8. The quick access and emphasis on SkyDrive makes it clear that it will be an important feature on all Windows platforms. For now these are early changes, but it’s reasonable to assume that there will be more integration in the future.
The Start Screen has improved tile customization, new swipe gestures, and personalized themes.
Windows Blue has more customization for Tiles, namely allowing two new sizes and a more uniformed way of arranging them. Live Tiles in Windows 8 could already be large and medium, but Windows Blue adds in a smaller Title size. This is identical to the small Titles already found on Windows Phone, which could be a sign of standardization across Windows devices. Additionally, The Desktop Tile is the only Tile that can have the new extra Large option.
With Windows Blue it is now mandatory to hit the Customize button in the lower right corner to freely move around Tiles and name Tile Groups. This is likely to reduce accidental movement of Tiles, namely the new small size ones.
A new gesture in Windows Blue includes swiping up to show all Apps. This menu itself isn’t new, but the gesture makes it even quicker to access.
There is now a Personalize menu in the charms bar. You can select a Start Screen, background, color, or accent. There is a large selection of shades and patterns to select from. The accent option not only changes the look of the Start, but also other menus within Windows Blue.
PC Settings Menu
Windows Blue’s PC Settings Menu has many more options than what is currently in Windows 8. New additions add in more network options, screen control, and SkyDrive integration.
Within the Lock Screen you can set a new Picture Frame mode, which will turn your tablet or monitor into a digital photo frame. You can also quickly access the camera from Lock Screen.
The Screen Menu allows you to set the display resolution, orientation, and number of monitors. You can now do all of this without switching to the Desktop. There are also settings to adjust Power and Sleep controls. These include how many minutes must pass before the screen powers off or the computer enters sleep mode.
Windows Blue includes larger support for SkyDrive. You can choose to backup devices to SkyDrive or automatically upload media such as images and videos. You can even set the quality of your uploads. This could mean that SkyDrive will be a more integral and important part of Windows 8.
In the Devices Menu there are now new options to quickly access Add/Remove devices and AutoPlay. Nothing overly impressive or new, but still convenient to have.
The Network Menu allows you to quickly change connections, add in VPN settings, and change Proxy. VPN settings include adding a connection name, the server address, type of authentication, and user name and password if applicable. With Proxy settings you can choose automatic detection, automatic configuration scripts, or link to a configuration address. You can also instead connect to a Proxy server by entering the address and port.
In the Apps Menu you can set quiet hours to disable notifications are certain times. This is very similar to the Do Not Disturb feature found on many Mac devices. This will likely be better suited for tablets than desktop computers. In the Apps Menu you can also check the size of each app to see what’s hogging your storage space.
Windows Blue also includes several new apps such as Alarm, Calculator, Sound Recorder, and Movie Moments. These apps are very basic at the moment, making it likely that they are not the finished versions.
Alarm allows for multiple alarms at different times. You can select how often the alarm repeats, but otherwise is rather basic in this build. Setting an alarm’s time does use a rather aesthetically pleasing clock interface.
The Calculator app can be set for both standard and scientific modes. There is also a Converter option to compare various measurements such as volume or weight. The app also separates and clearly marks several measurements into their United States and British Imperial versions.
Sound Recorder is an app that allows recording with a microphone. You can quickly share any recording on SkyDrive or e-mail.
Movie Moments is a basic movie maker that allows easy support for overlaying captions onto videos. It appears to be a replacement for Windows Movie Maker.
While not a new app, Windows Blue has improved Snap View to look at two apps at once. Each app will take up half of the screen when with Snap View. With a larger resolution you can even use Snap View to look at three or four apps at once.
Windows Blue has many new features that further improve Windows 8’s interface and connectivity. The Start Screen is much more customizable with arrangeable and resizable Tiles, personalized backgrounds, and a new swipe gesture. The PC Settings Menu has more options SkyDrive, the Lock Screen, Networking, Devices, and app quite hours. Windows Blue even includes four new apps in the form of Alarm, Calculator, Sound Recorder, and Movie Maker. Additionally you can use Snap View to use several apps on one screen.
Overall, Windows Blue is a medium update that contains many improvements that will please Windows 8 users.