Windows Blue Marks a Faster, Nimbler Microsoft

Leaked screenshots of a Windows 8 update, code-named Windows Blue, show improvements to the touch-friendly Start Screen and less emphasis on the Desktop. But more importantly, it shows Microsoft can drive in the fast lane.

A new version of Windows? Already? Didn't Windows 8 just come out?

According to various reports from around the Web, Windows Blue is the code name for the next version of the Windows operating system, and it could release by the end of the year if Microsoft stays true to its promise of more frequent Windows updates.

To be clear, Windows Blue is in the very early build stage. Microsoft has acknowledged, in a blog post by VP of corporate communications Frank Shaw, that a project referred to internally as "Blue" does exist. According to The Verge, Microsoft plans to release a public preview of Windows Blue at its Build developer conference in June. The Verge also did a video walk-through of Windows Blue features. I'm sure we'll find out more about Windows Blue in the coming weeks and months.

The "evidence" of Windows Blue that set the Technorati aflutter is screenshots leaked on file-sharing sites like BitTorrent that reveal some new features and functionality that address current Windows 8 complaints. (Take a Windows Blue Screenshot Tour via Engadget)

Namely, the ability to change the size of tiles on the Start Screen (you can pick between large, medium, and small Live Tiles) and a new option in the Charms Bar menu called "Personalize" that lets you change the color schemes of the Start Screen.

WinBlueScreenshot.jpg

Windows Blue leaked screenshot.

You will be able to snap apps next to each other with each taking up half the screen or even have four apps snapped into four quarters. In the current version of Windows 8, you can only display a second app in a small view alongside your main app.

New apps were also spotted on the Windows Blue Start screen such as Alarms, Calculate, Sound Recorder, and Movie Moments. Enhancements to SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud-based storage service, are on tap as well.

Ok, so not exactly earth-shattering changes. Windows Blue is not reinventing the wheel but rather adding touch-ups and tweaks to Windows 8. This is Microsoft keeping Windows fresh. Every year, not every three years.

What's most interesting about the Windows Blue screenshots is the clear indication that Microsoft is downplaying or possibly killing the Desktop. Based on the Windows Blue screenshots, it's easier for tablet users to access Control Panel options via the Start Screen instead of having to jump over to Desktop mode, an awkward transition in Windows 8 that has drawn many complaints. Microsoft is migrating features away from the Desktop mode and onto the multi-touch Start Screen, leaving users with fewer compelling reasons to even be in the desktop. Is this the shape of things to come?

But tweaks and leaked screenshots aside, Windows Blue represents Microsoft's important effort to speed up the pace of new Windows releases. By targeting a new OS update every year -- a la Apple's OS X -- instead of every three years, Microsoft is finally acting on the idea that Windows must move swiftly to survive in our more mobilized world.

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