've been playing with the leaked Windows 8.1 Build 9471 for several hours now and come away both relieved and upset. I say "relieved" because there aren't any huge changes from the Preview version that you've no doubt come to know, admire, and/or loathe. I say "upset" because Microsoft hasn't changed a couple of the new features that are decidedly anti-consumer.
No doubt you've been following the vagaries of the Windows 8.1 Preview version, released six weeks ago. I wrote about that version at length in late June. With that as a starting point, here's what I'm seeing that's new in Build 9471 — and what we're likely to see in the final, RTM version.
First come the trivial cosmetic things that supplant substance in the eyes of many pundits: There's a new "Dragon" Metro Start screen background/wallpaper, first shown at Build 2013 to wild applause, and several more Metro wallpapers, including ones that actually move (be still my beating heart). There are more Alarm sounds. "Woo-hoo" isn't one of them.
The Metro Photos app, which was inexplicably hamstrung in the Preview, now lets you choose between your computer's Photos Library (hold onto that thought for a second) and your SkyDrive Photos folder. As widely discussed when the Preview hit, Facebook and Flickr links to Photos are nowhere to be seen — presumably banished because of conflicts with Microsoft.
The Metro Help & Tips app — which didn't work at all in the Preview — now has six tiled guides: Start and apps; Get around; Basic actions; Your account and files; Settings; and What's new. All six are at a very introductory level, but nonetheless the tutorial's been sorely needed. Help & Tips also includes a direct link to search Windows.com for additional information. When I sought information for "Windows Experience Index," for example, I was given a load of information about Windows 8 — but none at all about Windows 8.1. Presumably that will change with time. (WEI is in Windows 8, but it's been dropped in Windows 8.1.)
The Mail, People, and Calendar apps are all in for major renovation, and all look and work differently from their Preview classmates. Mail, for example, has a row of icons on the left that let you view incoming newsletters and social site updates independently of your regular mail. Much has been made online about the inclusion of an ellipses on the border line at the bottom of the Mail viewing pane. It's supposed to remind users that there are more options hiding at the bottom of the window — where Metro hides everything anyway. Click on the ellipses and you see the App Bar for Mail spring up from the bottom. When I tried that on an empty email account, clicking the ellipses brought up a bar with nothing but another ellipses, which I could click to synch email — not terribly inspiring. Mail also now allows you to click and drag a message into a folder — just like you could in, oh, Outlook Express in Internet Explorer 4.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.