Thoughts on the Build 2013 Day 1 Keynote

Brent Schooley / Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 1 of Build 2013 came and passed days ago now. Despite not having an attendee badge, I did pay quite a bit of attention to the keynote and the announcements that came with it. I think instead of doing a regurgitation of everything that happened, it might be more instructive to simply comment on the things that I found most relevant from the Day 1 keynote. I’ll do the same for the day two keynote. Here’s what you need to know from the Day 1 keynote.

Rapid pace of innovation

Steve Ballmer made it very clear early on in the keynote that one of Microsoft’s key focuses right now is on a rapid release cycle for anything with the Windows brand. This is why only about a year since the release of Windows 8 we are seeing Windows 8.1 in preview mode for imminent release. Ballmer said that rapid releases are “fundamental” to the “need to mobilize the ecosystem of software and hardware development partners”. I take this to mean that the company realizes that a rapid pace of releases will continue to push the platform into the future. As we get new hardware, Microsoft will be able to stay with the latest trends.

Windows 8.1 - Responsive Redefined

One of the big announcements for Build 2013 is the preview of Windows 8.1. Windows 8.1 is the next version of Windows 8 which will be available later this year. Julie Larson-Green drove the Windows 8.1 portion of the keynote. There were a bunch of changes shown. Here are some highlights.

Keyboard gestures

One of the pain points of using a virtual keyboard on a touch device is constantly needing to switch between letters, numbers, and symbols. Microsoft has added some keyboard swiping gestures to ease some of this pain. For instance, to select an autocomplete suggestion, you can swipe left or right on the keyboard. This means you don’t have to reach up to select a word. For punctuation and symbols, you can swipe up on the number that corresponds to that symbol (for instance, swiping up on 1 gets you an exclamation point). These new gestures will make it much easier to type in Windows 8.1.

New Mail app

This is a much needed application update. The version of Mail that ships with Windows 8 currently has many, many flaws. The new Outlook app that is coming for Windows 8.1 loos like it is the mail client everyone has been hoping for. Only downside for now is it is not included in the preview of Windows 8.1 so we’ll have to stay tuned.

New search features

Microsoft has completely revamped the search experience in Windows 8.1. This is almost a complete reboot of the Search contract. One of the quotes from JLG was “search is not just a list of links, it’s things you can do”. The new search functionality has “Bing Inside” and the ties between search and Bing make some scenarios a lot easier to search. I’ll need to play with this new search a bit before I’ll be able to comment too much more on it.

New tile sizes and personalization options

These seem like small changes, but the bigger and smaller tile sizes really will add a bit more personality to the Start screen. Users will be able to set their Start screen background colors in a much more fine-grained way. Larger tile sizes allow apps to show more information in Live Tile scenarios. Smaller tile sizes allow users to have more apps easily reachable on the first page of the Start screen. Customization is great.

New snapping and multi-monitor features

Windows 8 currently allows two applications to be run at the same time. One application is in Snapped mode and takes up a phone width sized portion of the screen. The other application is in Fill mode and takes up the rest. Windows 8.1 allows you to have more than two applications running at the same time and you have full flexibility over the size of each app that is running. New multi-monitor features allow you to run multiple Windows Store applications across all of your monitors in whatever configuration you choose. Coming along with the multi-monitor changes is the new ability for each monitor to have its own DPI scaling. This will be a great feature for most systems as higher density screens continue to be released.

Developer Improvements

After the Windows 8.1 preview summary by Julie Larson-Green, Antoine Leblond took over the keynote to show off new developer features. From Visual Studio to Windows Store to IE11, many great new features were shown during this segment of the keynote.

Visual Studio 2013 Preview

First, the Visual Studio 2013 preview was announced and is available to be downloaded now. Some of the features that they showed during the keynote included:

  • New profiling features that allow you to profile power, network usage, and more
  • Async debugging tools
  • Easier dialogs for adding things like push notifications to your apps

I’ll have more to say about Visual Studio 2013 as I get to play with it later.


Internet Explorer 11 adds MPEG-DASH and WebGL to the list of powerful technologies in Microsoft’s growingly capable browser. MPEG-DASH, or Dynamic Streaming Over HTTP, allows for smooth streaming video files over conventional HTTP web servers. WebGL, or Web Graphics Library, allows for GPU accelerated 2D and 3D graphics in the browser. These two technologies combined with a revamped web view control allow for hardware accelerated web content right inside of native applications. This makes it easier that ever to build apps that blend local and web content.

Windows Store Enhancements

The Windows Store has been redesigned to make applications easier to find and more fun to browse. The “Picks for you” list offers suggestions of applications you might like based on other applications you have installed. The biggest feature added to the Windows Store is the auto-updating functionality Microsoft has added. Users will no longer need to go into the Windows Store in order to update apps since apps will update themselves whenever a new update is available.

Bing as a Platform

This was a very interesting section of the keynote showing off how the new Bing Platform should allow for some very interesting application scenarios. Combining amazing map imagery with speech recognition and optical character recognition on the server, the presenter demoed a sample application that managed trip ideas. It will be pretty exciting to see what developers do with these new technologies.

Project Spark

There was one last thing shown off before the keynote ended and that was the game/game creation environment Project Spark. I don’t think words can properly do Project Spark justice, so watch this video or the keynote to see what it’s all about:


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