Windows Blue: What can we expect from Microsoft’s next operating system?


These days, “blue” isn’t just used in the same sentence as Microsoft’s Windows platform when talking about the operating system’s infamous blue screen of death. “Windows Blue” is the supposed name of the company’s next OS, and if various reports and rumors are to be believed, it’s coming out as soon as this summer. 

Based on rumors, rumblings and some ideas of our own, here’s what we know about and what we think will be included in Windows Blue.

What is Windows Blue and how’s it different from previous iterations?

Speculations about what exactly Windows Blue is have evolved since we first heard about it late last year. We now know that Blue might have been designed more as an update to Windows 8 – a low-cost version, even – rather than Microsoft’s full-fledged next-gen operating system. You won’t have to pony up a lot of cash as you’ve done with earlier versions of Microsoft’s OSes. The company plans to issue yearly, paid incremental updates, and although the company has yet to disclose how much Blue will cost, or even to confirm whether it will actually be called “Windows Blue” when it does hit the market, there’s a chance Microsoft will price it pretty close to $20 OS X upgrades Mac users are accustomed to. 

Which devices is Blue meant for?

Despite keeping the nitty-gritty under wraps, Microsoft does leave us crumbs of information to pick up here and there. In February, the company’s job postings revealed that the company is looking for people to add to the team responsible for Windows 8’s tiled start screen and software life-cycle, which told us that Microsoft is developing  a unified Blue for both computers and phones. The fact that Microsoft wanted more employees for that particular team is a huge sign that Blue will have a start screen similar to Windows 8, and that the company really does plan to roll out frequent software upgrades. 

Blue, according to PCMag, might have also been built specifically for affordable pint-sized tablets with 7- to 8.9-inch displays. Current Windows 8 tablets aren’t cheap, and prices usually begin at around $500, but word is that hardware manufacturers can get Blue for $30, which is significantly less than the current prices ($85 to $125) they have to pay for current Windows versions. Thus, manufacturers can sell tablets on the cheap and could price 7- to 8.9-inch tablets at roughly $200 to $350 each. This might give Microsoft the edge it needs to be able to compete against Android tablets, Kindle Fires, and even iPads. 

What are some of Blue’s new features?

We’re still in the dark when it comes to Blue’s full list of features, but based on an early build of Blue leaked online recently, despite a number of improvements, it will look very similar to Windows 8. Screenshots of Blue posted on a Polish forum show that it features a view with smaller tiles one-fourth the size of Windows’ medium tiles, and one with larger tiles around four times the size of medium tiles, along with a new Customize button that you have to click to rearrange tiles so you don’t accidentally move them when you just want to launch an app.

It has a new 50/50 Snapping option, wherein two running apps equally share the Snap window on the side of the screen. The consolidated PC settings section gives you easy access to most of the things you can usually tweak via the Control Panel, but it also includes a new SkyDrive option that hints at Blue’s ability to sync changes made to files stored on your SkyDrive account – the Windows 8 SkyDrive app can only access files, not change it.

Windows Blue is also rumored to ship with Internet Explorer 11, but since the version that was included in the leaked OS was an early build that’s pretty similar to IE 10, save for the nonfunctional Show synced tabs option on the Menu bar, we still don’t know what the new browser can offer. Four new apps – Alarm, Calculator, Sound Recorder, and Movie Moments – were spotted on the leaked version, but their overly simple white-text-on-black-background icons cast doubt on whether they’re actually pre-installed Microsoft apps and not software installed by a third party. 

The Bing team is reportedly working closely with the folks behind Windows Blue to significantly improve Charm’s search function. Whereas you have to search within apps to find what you need on Windows 8, you might be able to cut that process in less than half on Blue, which might give you the capacity to deep search even outside of apps. The leaked screenshots also reveal the  new play option on the Devices charm, and the Share charm’s new screenshot sharing option that lets you easily share screen captures with apps. A new Personalization button appears on the Settings charm, giving you a convenient way to personalize Blue’s modern user interface. 

More recently, in a video of the company’s private meeting (in which company insiders have called the new OS “Blue”), a company exec mentioned that Microsoft is working to dramatically improve Blue’s touch capabilities. That’s a vague way to describe it, but those who’ve tried the leaked copy of Blue reported new gestures, including swiping up on the Start screen to bring up a list of apps, and swiping either up or down on the desktop screen to access a bunch of settings. We’re guessing there might also be considerable improvements  made to Blue’s core apps, but that doesn’t  mean Windows 8 users have to wait that long before theirs get updates – the company will roll out Windows 8 core app improvements before Blue becomes available.

When will Windows Blue be released?

If all goes as planned, Microsoft might be releasing Blue within this year. Win8China, a Chinese publication, claims the company is gunning for an August consumer release, after making it available to manufacturers sometime around June 7. Prior to that, however, Windows 8 users might have to chance to take Blue for a spin before everyone else can as Microsoft is expected to roll out a public preview of the OS within the next few months. 

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