Return of the ‘Start’ button: Microsoft shows off nifty new features of Windows 8.1

26 Jun 2013

Pictured: Microsoft's Windows leader Julie Larson-Green

Just eight months after releasing Windows 8, Microsoft’s new rapid release policy has resulted in a preview of Windows 8.1 full of new responsive features that Windows chief Julie Larson-Green has described as the “most ambitious” version of Windows ever.

Larson-Green predicted today at Build in San Francisco that “pretty soon every device you use will involve touch” and showed off some nifty new features that will be available in the new preview version of 8.1. The Windows 8.1 Preview is available for download beginning today at

These included a new Radio feature on the Xbox Music app which can convert a web page into a playlist of bands mentioned on the page.

She also demonstrated how Skype calls can be accepted directly from the lock screen on Windows 8 devices.

Users will be able to see all of their software apps on the main ‘Start’ screen by simply swiping up on the display.

New photo editing tools will be coming with 8.1 including controls like saturation, tint, temperature to enhance and improve images.

Larson-Green stunned the crowd of developers with a new ‘hands-free mode’ for Windows 8 devices which she showed on an app simply called Food & Drink which provides recipes and helps manage shopping lists and meal planning.

“Cooking can be messy,” she said and showed how the new hands-free mode turned on the camera on the computer and allowed the user to control the screen with gestures, Kinect-style.

Larson-Green also demonstrated new multitasking functionality such as being able to have a snap view of more than two windows open on a screen. New improvements in the Mail application on Windows 8 enables users to create an automatic snap view of two screens by clicking on a link in an email.

“Windows 8.1 is an update that refines our vision of Windows 8 and our response to trends, from the newest silicon to the newest devices.”

Gestures to dominate Windows 8.1

windows 8.1 snap view

Larson-Green pointed out that since Windows 8 debuted last October there have been more than 800 updates to the operating system. “Responsiveness and efficiency are key from the newest small tablets to the most powerful workstations.”

She revealed that gesture-control is going to feature large in the new Windows 8.1 operating system.

Pointing to social updates and newsletters at a glance features in Mail, she showed how it was possible to simply delete messages by swishing your hand across the screen.

Larson-Green also demonstrated the importance of search in Windows 8.1 and how Microsoft’s Bing technology will be immersed in every feature and app.

“Bing saw 20bn searched in the US in one month alone recently. Search, we believe, shouldn’t be just a list of links, it should be actions to things you do.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years