During the last week of June in San Francisco, Microsoft officially announced a preview version of Windows 8.1. Windows 8.1 (or Windows Blue, as it has been code-named) is the next version of Windows (after Windows 8) and introduces support for many new features, as well as fixes bugs present in Windows 8.
What’s new in Windows 8.1?
Windows 8.1 brings significant changes in the Live Tiles feature. Windows 8.1 applications can now declare a live tile in the app manifest and the tile will start updating immediately after the application is installed (even before it is invoked). Moreover, Live Tiles now support two new sizes: 310 x 310 pixels, and 70 x 70 pixels. Calendaring and mail applications can leverage the support for larger sizes to show more than one piece of information, e.g. the Windows 8.2 calendar application now supports up to three appointments.
API Access to Contacts and Calendar
Windows 8.1 now provides API support to access Contacts and Calendar.
The Contacts API supports querying by email address or phone number. The Calendar APIs can be used for appointment management, and work with calendaring capabilities from multiple providers.
There are new WinJS and XAML controls to help build engaging applications with better performance.
On the XAML side, Hub, and Flyout are the new controls available to developers. Date and Time picker controls have been improvised. GridView and ListView controls have performance improvements.
Both XAML and WinJS developers can use the in-app Search control to provide the exact in-app search experience as the Windows 8 operating system.
Windows 8.1 applications can now be sized in more ways than Windows 8. Multiple applications can share the screen at the same time. In addition, the same application can span multiple screens (monitors), allowing users to work more efficiently.
Direct X 11.1
Windows 8.1 brings support for DirectX 11.1, which provides a better gaming experience for 2D as well as 3D applications.
GPU scaling allows dynamic resizing of the frame buffer to keep 3D graphics smooth.
Media Support Improvements
Windows 8.1 adds support for Common File Format (CFF) to its MP4 implementation. It also brings native support for Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for HTML5 playback.
In the space of video capture, Windows 8.1 added support for photo sequence mode to take a continuous sequence of photos. In addition, support for scene mode, torch mode, flash mode, white balance, exposure mode, exposure compensation mode, focus mode, and ISO mode have been added. Windows 8.1 also provides the ability to take photos while recording video.
Internet Explorer 11
Windows 8.1 brings the next generation browser, Internet Explorer 11, which supports WebGL powered 2D and 3D experiences, high DPI rendering, device orientation tracking, and MPEG-DASH.
IE11 also brings support for world-class developer tools for the web.
Windows Runtime Improvements for Devices
Windows Runtime now has programmatic support for Human Interface Devices (HID), Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Bluetooth.
Windows 8.1 is the first operating system to have native support for 3D printing, allowing Windows Store applications to submit 3D print jobs directly.
Programmatic Support for Scanning
Windows 8.1 brings programmatic access to scanners using the new Windows.Devices.Scan namespace, to support native scanning support for Windows Store applications.
Better Windows Store support
Windows 8.1 supports in-app consumables and a larger catalog of in-app items.
How do I Get Started Developing for Windows 8.1?
To get started with building applications for Windows 8.1, you need to install the Window 8.1 preview release to be able to access the APIs and test your Windows 8.1 application.
Windows 8.1 preview release can be downloaded from http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/preview-download?ref=msdn
Once you have installed Windows 8.1, you will need a development environment that supports Windows 8.1. Microsoft has announced the release of Visual Studio Express 2013 Preview for Windows, which is available free for developers as a world class IDE to build Windows 8.1 applications.
It can be downloaded from http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkID=299053
If you are only looking for the Windows 8.1 SDK, you can get it from http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=294834
In addition, Microsoft has also made available a few Windows 8.1 samples, which can be downloaded from http://code.msdn.microsoft.com/windowsapps/Windows-8-Modern-Style-App-Samples/file/60708/47/Windows%208%20app%20samples.zip.
Installing Visual Studio Express 2013 Preview for Windows
Once you have installed Windows 8.1, you can launch the Visual Studio Express 2013 Preview for Windows. which is available at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkID=299053.
Installation is straight-forward as evidenced from the screen shots below.
Visual Studio Ultimate 2013 Preview License Terms
Visual Studio Ultimate 2013 Preview - Acquiring
Visual Studio Ultimate 2013 Preview - Optional Features
Once installation is complete, you are ready to begin developing Windows 8.1 applications.
In this article, we learned about the new features available in Windows 8.1, and how to get started developing for Windows 8.1. I hope you have found this information useful.
About the author
Vipul Patel is a Program Manager currently working at Amazon Corporation. He has formerly worked at Microsoft in the Lync team and in the .NET team (in the Base Class libraries and the Debugging and Profiling team). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org