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Microsoft Demos Windows 8.1, Shows Off New Keyboard, Search and Apps

TAIPEI, TAIWAN -- We're just a few weeks away from Microsoft's Build conference, but the company decided to give Computex attendees a preview of what to expect from Windows 8.1. 

Microsoft's Antoine LeBlonde provided a walkthrough of the improvements users can expect with Windows 8.1, which include user interface improvements, better multitasking, improved search and updated preloaded apps.

Most of the features LeBlonde showcased on stage were revealed in Microsoft's Windows 8.1 announcement last month, but he offered a full demonstration and many additional details. The first thing LeBlonde showed was the new Start screen tile sizes, one which is smaller than the current tile sizes in Windows 8. You can also batch select tiles, so you can move several around the screen at once.

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LaBlonde also showed off Windows 8.1's new multitasking capabilities, demonstrating how you can put two apps side by side in a 50-50 view on a small screen or have as many as four apps on the screen at once on a larger display. When he opened a link in an email in Windows 8.1, the browser launched on the right side of the screen, while the email client stayed on the left.

Search is also a huge part of the Windows 8.1 experience. LeBlonde showed how the new search engine grabs information not only from your apps, data and settings, but also from Bing. In his demo he searched for Marilyn Monroe and an attractive "hero result" came up with a large picture of the actress and thumbnail links to image search, apps, a Wikipedia entry and other related artists.

In an effort to mirror the traditional Windows experience, Microsoft has also added a Windows button to the desktop mode where the Start button used to be. Hitting the button just takes you back to the Start screen, but that Start screen now looks more familiar because it can use the same wallpaper as your desktop. If you like to view all your apps, you can set the Start button to take you to the "all apps" screen rather than the Start screen. 

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The company also added gesture control to the keyboard in order to make it easier to type on smaller-size tablets. Holding down the question mark, for example, pulls up other symbols in order to save screen space on 7-inch slates. The keyboard now has autocomplete suggestions that appear on top of the text you're writing; choosing a suggestion is as easy as swiping left to right on the space bar.

LeBlonde showcased new apps that come with Windows 8.1 as well, which range from a revamped photo editing app that allows you to edit your photos to a cooking application with custom recipes from famous chefs. He also demoed a new share feature that lets you save documents and Web pages for later reading.

Microsoft said it plans to release a preview of Windows 8.1 later this month, with a free official update rolling out to all Windows 8 users by the end of the year.