Microsoft has added a raft of new and much-needed features to its operating system, including native support for 3D printing. Photo: AFP
As widely expected, when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took to the stage in San Francisco to deliver the keynote address at the annual BUILD developers conference he outlined the company's future strategy and revealed a number of impressive updates to the Windows 8 operating system.
Although Windows 8.1 won't officially launch until the end of 2013, consumers whose computers currently run Windows 8 can download a preview edition of the new operating system to get to grips with the changes, the best of which include:
High-resolution display support
The updated software now automatically expands or contracts icons and page furniture to match the resolution and size of a connected display. This is a key addition for consumers who want to use a tablet as their primary device but then dock it with a keyboard and standalone monitor (or even an HD TV) for home or office use.
Microsoft's take on panoramic photography, this built-in app will automatically join smaller images together to create one panoramic whole.
It's hard to believe that in Windows 8 there is no simple, straightforward way of viewing all of the apps installed on a computer together as a unified list. This problem has been dealt with rather elegantly and now a single swipe up pulls up a user's list of installed apps.
The start button
Its return is no surprise, Microsoft touted its arrival as a way of showing it was listening to its users. However, the way it has been integrated is slightly different from start buttons of old. Clicking on it does not pull up a start menu from the task bar which expands in outward sections as the user rolls a mouse over. Instead, clicking on ‘Start' opens a start page.
Proving that the company really is looking to the future rather than simply trying to second-guess its competitors, Windows 8 will have native support for 3D printing. It means that companies that are gearing up to make consumer-focused 3D printers will be able to use Microsoft's official, supported code to write printer drivers for their products. But why stop at drivers, they can also create dialog boxes and even small, touch-responsive applications to support their printers.
Installing Windows 8.1 preview
If you want to test out the revamped operating system for yourself, downloading the preview edition of Windows 8.1 is very straightforward.
Go to the Windows 8.1 preview page and download an update file and follow the instructions.
However, make sure your computer is fully backed up and that all of its installed software is up to date before proceeding.