Microsoft on the Windows Blog have released the first details of Windows 8.1 and the changes coming to Windows. Microsoft say they have listened to customer feedback and implements changes to the touch experience, improvements to personalization, search and built in apps and the return of the Start Button (sort of). Read on for the details:

UI Improvements

The first change is you can now have a photo slide show of your local stored or SkyDrive stored images in the lock screen so you can use it as a photoframe. You can take pictures from the camera without logging in to Windows, something I use on Android as a quick way of taking photos. There are more colours and background for the lock screen including motion backgrounds which reminds me of the old Vista motion desktop images (was it a panda?).

Microsoft have added the ability to use the desktop background as the background of the start screen which Microsoft say creates “a greater sense of unity and familiarity” which may be a way of trying to get uses to feel more comfortable with Windows 8 metro screen. Also arranging the tiles has been made easier, you can select multiple apps at once and resize, arrange and group apps. There is also a new gesture to view all apps, just swipe up from the bottom of the screen and you can see all installed apps (you can have this as the default start screen, more on that later). Apps are will not on the start screen by default in Windows 8.1, they are now under a “new” section where you can pin them if you want to.

Search Improvements

In Windows 8.1 the search charm is a global search with the results powered by Bing. So you get web, apps, files and Skydrive results in a unified result. This should make searching more useful and again improve the experience of Windows 8.1

Apps and multitasking

Microsoft say they are improving the built in apps in Windows 8.1. The photos app gains editing features at last and the music app has been redesigned which Microsoft say will help you pick and play music from your collection.

Running multiple apps at once looks much improved in Windows 8.1, you can resize apps to any size you want so you can have two apps equally sharing the screen or you can adjust it to what you want. You can also have a 3rd app running on a 2nd monitor. Also you can snap two windows of the same app together. This looks like one of the biggest changes which will really help users of large displays or multiple monitor setups.

Other Changes

SkyDrive gets an offline mode so you can take file with you offline which will be interesting to see how that works with small devices like the Surface RT.

Microsoft have got rid of the need to go to the old desktop Control Panel as they have moved all the settings to the new PC Settings app, this is important if there are going to be smaller Windows tablet where using the desktop would be very difficult and paves the way to an all modern UI device.

In Windows 8.1 IE 11 replaces IE 10 which Microsoft say has faster load times and syncs tabs across Windows 8.1 devices.

Mouse and Keyboard improvements

Microsoft seem to be acknowledging Windows 8 needs improvements for non-touch users, the start button is back but is now called the Start Tip. It is always visible when on the desktop and shows up when you move the mouse in to the corner in an app or the start screen. You can also change the startup options so you boot to an apps view rather than the current start screen, it doesn’t say if you can boot to the desktop but it does say you can “b0ot into alternate screens”.

Microsoft say they will release more details soon and June 26th at the Build conference Microsoft will release a preview of Windows 8.1. More details on the Windows Blog. These changes look like going some way to appease the complaints with Windows 8. The Start Tip, the apps view and the splitting of screens will make Windows 8.1 better to use and should make Windows work better on large and small devices. I am looking forward to giving it a try in June.

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