A bullet-point recap of yesterday’s big Microsoft news

Wow, and wow! The keynote session of Build took place yesterday, and Microsoft went into overdrive by releasing lots of information about their updates to Windows desktop, Windows Phone, and some technologies and services which power both platforms. In addition, Nokia sneaked in a handful of announcements too!

There’s a lot of in-depth detail on other sites (which I’ve linked to), but here’s a quick bullet-point recap of the big news of the day (well, in my opinion, anyway)!

Windows Phone 8.1

  • Cortana! (more on which below)
  • Action Center: At last, a notification centre (on steroids) for Windows Phone.
  • Word Flow Keyboard: A “Swype” type keyboard. Seems fast – as in it’s the new “Guinness World Records – Record Holder” fast!
  • Calendar can now be panned with left/right swipes (at last!), and also has a week view.
  • Skype is integrated deeper into the phone (more of which below), including being able to “upgrade” regular voice calls to Skype calls at a touch of a button.
  • Xbox Music, Xbox Video and Xbox Podcasts are now baked in. Podcasts are now available globally (we’ve only waited two years for this in the UK). Syncs with Xbox Music and Xbox video across PC, tablet and Xbox.
  • Wi-Fi Sense: auto-connects to free (trusted!) public hotspots. Also syncs Wi-Fi passwords between phones, PC and Tablet.
  • Three-column start screen for ALL sizes of screen.
  • IE11 supports InPrivate browsing and introduces a new Reading mode. See below for some IE11 sync/synergy coolness in the Windows Synergy section.
  • Ability to set a Start screen background that scrolls quite neatly as you move up/down the screen (personally, I’m not too excited about this).
  • Lock Screen Themes – customise your lock screen. Make it look like Zune! 😉
  • Small tweaks to People Hub, Email and Accounts, Photos and Camera
  • Separate volume controls for ringer/notifications and for your apps/media. (I’ve never had an issue with one volume control, but it’s an oft-requested feature which has now been implemented!)
  • Miracast support – wirelessly broadcast video from your phone to your TV, Xbox, or other compatible device.
  • Ability to project your phone screen onto PC via USB.
  • Deeper support for Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms (enhancements in enrolment, content management and app management).
  • Improved certificate support.
  • New Enterprise (EAP-TLS) Wi-Fi support.
  • Ability to encrypt email (via S/MIME).
  • Details of Windows Phone 8.1 improvements here.
  • Further details of Windows Phone 8.1 at the WP UK blog here.

Windows 8.1 Update

  • The biggest changes come to keyboard/mouse users. Windows 8.1 had a great user interface experience for touch users; less so keyboard/mouse users. This has now been improved.
  • You can pin Windows Store apps on the desktop
  • All Windows Store apps have app bars (for close and minimise) – just move your mouse to the top edge of the screen.
  • Windows taskbar can now be “peeked out” by moving the mouse to the bottom edge of the screen whilst in any app.
  • Power and Search buttons are presented on the top-right of the Start screen for keyboard/mouse users.
  • Right-clicking any app tiles on your Start screen presents the familiar right-click menu (just like right-clicking on the desktop).
  • Enterprise Mode Internet Explorer (EMIE) provides legacy compatibility for older corporate web-based apps (mostly those that were coded to run well with IE8).
  • Windows 8.1 Update is available now to corporate users, and will be available to EVERYONE on April 8th.
  • A quick video of the improvements here.
  • A very detailed blog post of the improvements here.
  • An IT Pro blog post on Windows 8.1 Update (especially useful to understand the upgrade/installation scenarios).

Cortana

  • New *personal* Digital Assistant (Microsoft’s emphasis, not mine).
  • Similar to Siri, but powered by Bing. The “personal” side is that Cortana learns about YOU (via what you do on your phone, even to the level of reading your emails if you allow her to) to pick information that is pertinent and relevant to you.
  • Cortana amalgamates data from both the web (news, alerts and more) and your personal data (email, calendar, apps).
  • Released in the US shortly as a beta. Launch version expected in the second half of 2014 – this will add UK and China to the release territories. All other countries to follow in 2015.
  • On launch, Cortana can deal with searches of personal and web data, organise your diary, set reminders, and integrate with the built-in apps (phone, Skype, etc.).
  • If you speak to Cortana, she’ll speak her reply. If you type to Cortana, she’ll reply by text – great for meetings!
  • Cortana has a “notebook” – here, you can see the personal data she builds for you, and fine-tune for accuracy and privacy.
  • Cortana can sync (if you allow) some of your interests back to Bing. These snippets of information will light up for you when you use Bing.com or Bing apps.
  • Cortana can be extended by third-party apps. Skype, Hulu Plus and Facebook are amongst the first few apps that work with Cortana.
  • Working with Wi-Fi Sense, Cortana can detect “key” locations. You can have her turn your Wi-Fi on only at those spots (for example, your Wi-Fi is turned on at home, turned off during your drive to the office, and re-activated at the office. Smart!)
  • A geek-point this… the idea of Cortana’s personality on Windows Phone was partially derived from the Cortana character of the Halo videogame series. It’s utterly brilliant to know that the voice actress for Cortana on Halo is the very same person lending her vocal talents to Cortana for Windows Phone. This is basically every Halo fanboy’s dream answered! Well done, Jen Taylor! 🙂
  • Great blog post from Bing on how Cortana integrates and extends with Bing services.
  • The Verge covers the story of Cortana’s creation here.

Windows Synergy (including IE11 and Skype)

Nokia/HERE

Miscellaneous Stuff

  • Windows Server 2012 R2 Update is also now available.
  • Windows Phone adds two more OEM partners – Prestigio and Micromax. It’s great to see more manufacturers support Windows Phone.
  • A touch version of Microsoft Office was shown at Build. This’ll be part of the next Office release.
  • The Windows Start menu WILL return – this was also shown at Build, and will be part of a future Update release.
  • WINDOWS IS FREE FOR PHONES AND TABLETS WITH SCREEN SIZES OF 9″ OR LESS! That’s right – Windows Phone is now essentially free for phone manufacturers. I really, really hope this signals an upshift in the number of Windows Phone models we’ll see in the future!

 

Phew! Have I missed anything? 😛