A disk image purporting to be an early version of Windows Blue, Microsoft's upcoming operating system refresh, has leaked ahead of schedule via file-sharing sites, offering a glimpse at the company's planned direction.
Courtesy of an incautious French partner, Microsoft's next-generation Windows Blue operating system can now be downloaded and installed from a 2.63GB DVD ISO - to which we will, naturally, not be providing a link. Believed to be a feature-complete of the operating system, which heralds a claimed move to an Apple-like annual release cycle for Microsoft's Windows platform, the ISO provides confirmation of what earlier leaks have been suggesting.
First, the more important details: as claimed, the Windows Blue ISO does ship with a point-revision to the Windows Kernel, a move normally reserved for full operating system releases: Windows XP had an earlier kernel version than Windows Vista, for example, and Windows 7 incremented the kernel version again prior to the launch of Windows 8 with yet another new kernel. The inclusion of an incremented kernel version in Windows Blue marks the release as more than just Windows 8 Service Pack 1 - for all that Microsoft is thought to be releasing the software as a free upgrade for users of Windows 8.
Other changes are more aesthetic: the number of accent colours available in the personalisation options has been boosted over Windows 8, while it's now possible to alter the tile sizes on the Start screen in either direction. For touch-centric devices - Microsoft's clear target for the Modern UI - new gesture controls have been implemented, including the ability to swipe downwards to access applications quickly and easily.
The biggest change to the tile-based user interface previously known as Metro, however, comes in the form of an expansion to the rudimentary multi-tasking: rather than taking over the entire display or running in a fixed third of the screen, apps running in the Modern UI are now able to run side-by-side with each taking up half of the screen space. That might seem like a pretty basic feature to be headlining in an operating system due for release in 2013, but it marks a clear admission from Microsoft that perhaps the Modern UI is a little too
streamlined for everyone's taste.
With no details offered as to the under-the-hood improvements, it remains to be seen whether Windows Blue improves upon Windows 8's performance
. The leak also comes without confirmation that Windows Blue indeed marks Microsoft's move to a more rapid development cycle, offering annual updates for its operating system at a low upgrade cost - much like rival Apple does for its OS X platform.
With Microsoft expected to release a public preview of the operating system shortly, ahead of a rumoured August launch
, it looks like Windows Blue is shaping up as an evolution, rather than revolution, for the company's flagship operating system.