After months of silence and inactivity, the Windows division at Microsoft is churning to life: This week, Microsoft finally delivered the first substantial updates to the core mobile apps it includes with Windows 8 and Windows RT, delivering new versions of Windows Mail, Calendar, People, and Xbox Music. Meanwhile, a leaked build of the next Windows 8 version shows an increased reliance on the controversial Metro interface.
The Windows 8/Windows RT communications apps, as they’re called, encompass Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging, the latter of which didn’t receive any functional updates. These apps are the core set of productivity apps included in Windows 8/Windows RT, and the updates Microsoft delivered this week aim to improve their usage for both personal and professional scenarios.
Related: "In Praise of the Windows 8 Desktop"
“We know our customers typically have two or more email accounts for personal use and work use, they use these accounts throughout the day, and they have a large volume of email they’re continuously managing,” a Microsoft representative noted. “This update brings improvements to your Windows experience across your whole life: your personal communication and your work.”
I’ve thoroughly documented the changes on the SuperSite for Windows. Windows Mail gets the biggest upgrade, with folder management, support for message flags, simpler message marking, server email search, and more. The People app, which manages your contacts across multiple services, has been updated with a better UI, Exchange GAL support, social network filtering, and the ability to post to a friend’s Facebook wall. The Calendar app gets a few nice additions, including a cleaner UI, a Work Week view, a time marker, and a scheduling assistant.
Microsoft also updated the woefully incomplete Xbox Music app, which I’ve been documenting as part of my Xbox Music Book. (An update for the book that encompasses the changes will be available today or tomorrow.) This app update includes automatic music matching functionality, in-app volume control, better filtering options, and "related artists" views in Now Playing.
Of course, these apps represent only a small percentage of the apps bundled with Windows 8/Windows RT, and questions remain about when or whether Microsoft will deliver substantial updates to the other apps. Also, even these updates don’t address all the major issues users have complained about: Mail, for example, still lacks drag-and-drop email management—a feature of the web-based Outlook.com service—and a unified Inbox view.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is also racing forward with an interim update to Windows 8. Code-named “Blue,” this update can be considered a combination feature pack/service pack and is expected to ship roughly one year after Windows 8 did, in Q3 2013. As noted in "Windows Blue Leaks!," "(Virtual) Hands-On with Windows 8 'Blue' Build 9364," and "What the “Blue” Leak Tells Us About Microsoft’s Strategy," changes in the leaked build suggest that Microsoft is in effect doubling-down on the “Metro” UI in Windows 8, and ignoring any improvements to the desktop or to desktop/Metro interoperability. This will no doubt infuriate those who think Microsoft has moved too far from traditional PC computing in Windows 8.