Windows 8.1 Product Guide: What's New for Developers

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Windows 8 delivers on the promise of a “no compromise” experience that’s great for productivity and mobility. It's fun for consumers and easily managed in the enterprise. Windows 8 sets the standard for creating content that engages customers in a mobile or desktop device, providing flexibility and unique capabilities.

Windows 8.1 builds on the foundation of Windows 8 by enabling the next wave of app innovation. With Windows 8.1, apps continue to take center stage, introducing new ways to interact with the system. The Windows Store continues to offer great opportunities with better merchandizing, and improved discoverability for your apps. And of course, Windows gives developers a unique array of choices – choice of programming language (C#, C++, JavaScript, or VB), choice of presentation technology (XAML, HTML, or DirectX), and choice of business model via the Windows Store.

The new and improved user experience

We listened to our customers, and made the user experience simpler and more intuitive. Some changes we've made in Windows 8.1 include:

  • Updated Microsoft design principles that help you create great looking apps with improved usability and additional flexibility.
  • Apps that are more tightly integrated with Windows.
  • Enhanced graphics capabilities to make games more responsive and immersive.
  • New controls that enable fresh experiences and existing controls that work better and faster.
  • Touch-optimized and standards-based Internet Explorer 11.

With access to the classic desktop as well as a new Start screen, Windows 8 introduced a modern experience for touch-centric, mobile app experiences. With Windows 8.1, we've made the user experience more familiar and natural, while keeping the focus on great apps.

Learn more about the updates to the user experience for Windows 8.1 in the Windows 8.1 Feature Guide.

Live tile improvements

live tiles

New sizes

Live tiles in Windows 8.1 offer greater flexibility with immediate updates and new tile sizes. You can declare a live tile in the app manifest, and it starts updating immediately after a user installs an app—you no longer have to run the app before you receive updates. With two new sizes, 70x70px and 310x310px, users can be creative when customizing their Windows Start screen.

Contacts and Calendar

With Windows 8.1, you get convenient APIs to interact with a user's contacts and calendar. The Contacts API enables a source app to query the data store by email address or phone number, returning the Contact Card UI for the matching contact. The Calendar API allows you to add appointments, replace appointments, remove appointments, and show the user’s default appointment provider app side-by-side with another appointment provider app programmatically.

New and improved controls

New XAML and WinJS controls provide additional flexibility and capabilities for your apps.

XAML

HTML and JavaScript

In-app Search

In Windows 8.1, you can now search the entire system and the web using the Search charm. A new in-app Search control has been added for both XAML and WinJS. You get the exact same in-app search experience as Windows 8, only now Search is more easily discovered in your apps.

New window states

multiple apps

More ways to resize apps

  • Users can determine app sizes. Apps need a minimum width of 500px and can state in their manifest that they support a smaller minimum of 320px.
  • More than two apps can share the screen at the same time.
  • A single app can scale across multiple monitors.
  • Windows Store apps can remain open when another app is launched, sharing the screen and staying in memory.

See the Windows 8.1 Feature Guide for more detailed info on app sizing and Window states.

Games and media are even better

Windows introduced immersive gaming with support for DirectX 11.1. Windows 8.1 takes it further with extensive improvements to the graphics rendering pipeline for both 2D and 3D apps. We’ve improved media support too, by providing new formats and standards, as well as improving media playback and PlayTo.

game image

What's new in DirectX

With Windows 8.1, we've made some changes to make your DirectX games look even better and run more smoothly.

  • With GPU scaling, you can dynamically resize your frame buffer to keep your 3D graphics smooth, while support for hardware multi-plane overlay keeps your 2D art and interfaces looking great in native resolution.
  • Tiled rendering gives you better performance from mobile and newer GPUs.
  • The new low-level Direct3D Trim APIs efficiently make transitions from different hardware states smoother and faster.
  • A map default buffer operation lets you access a GPU’s default buffers directly from your app without the intermediate copy operation.
  • Shaders can now be compiled and linked at runtime. Shaders can be procedurally composed inside your app, linked, and run without separate HLSL files.

Media optimization and playback

Windows 8.1 introduces audio and video support for additional file formats, improved performance, and better battery life. Specifc improvements includes support for:

Internet Explorer 11

Internet Explorer 11 is built for a touch-optimized web. In addition to faster tab switching, improved Frequents list, and better navigation of favorite sites, with IE11, you get:

IE11 favorites

  • Better and safer integration with Windows
  • Better compatibility with and implementation of web standards than ever
  • A great touch-optimized experience
  • Redesigned developer tools that help you test across devices, browsers, and Windows Store apps

Integration with Windows

Websites get dynamic exposure on the Windows Start screen with customizable live tiles that connect to an RSS feed in minutes. You can add support for your website by adding simple meta tags to a page.

Security and privacy

With Internet Explorer 11, you get continued secure and private browsing, including:

Touch

IE11 supports default handling for touch-based drag-and-drop, touch-based hover, and active link highlighting. Prefetch and prerender improve performance by enabling nearly instantaneous forward navigations. IE11 uses responsive scrolling effects and better control of the panning and zooming experience on a site or Windows Store app. And IE11 includes updates to Pointer Events that align Internet Explorer with the W3C Pointer Events specification.

Advancing the Web platform

IE11 improves compatibility and the implementation of web standards, such as a new user-agent string that helps sites just work using the existing code on a webpage. For graphics and media, IE11 gives you:

The best tools to build, debug, and tune web content

IE11 dev tools

The newly redesigned F12 developer tools make it easier to develop and debug sites across browsers and Windows Store apps using JavaScript and HTML. The F12 tools offer

  • A live view of the DOM makes modifying DOM elements easier.
  • The UI Responsiveness tool, which scans webpages and pinpoints where they slow down and which processes take too much time.
  • Console and DOM Explorer tools, which provide autocomplete when typing elements.
  • An Emulation tool, which previews what sites look like on various sized screens.
  • GPS emulation, which tests how mobile webpages respond anywhere in the world.
  • The new Memory tool, which tracks memory usage over time, helping debug sluggish pages and crashes.

See the Internet Explorer 11 Developer Guide for more information about IE11.

Devices provide a world of choice

hardware options

From the smallest tablets and convertibles to high powered ultra-books and PCs, the breadth of the Windows device market is unrivaled. This versatility gives you great opportunity to reach consumers with your apps. The Windows Runtime makes it easier than ever to take full advantage of hardware and device innovations without requiring you to write a custom driver.

Unleashing the power of hardware and devices

Windows 8.1 enables smaller, more secure, energy-efficient devices that give your customers great high-definition displays, seamless multimedia playback and great real-time communication experiences.

Wide range of device choices

Windows 8.1 runs on a wide range of great hardware, so you can design and build devices from the smallest tablets and convertibles to high-powered ultra-books and PC's, all delivering the latest advances in screens, battery life, and performance.

High resolution for all displays

It doesn't matter if you’re using a small or a large screen device, or wirelessly connecting to an external display, with high PPI, all your apps come to life in high resolution.

Safe and secure out-of-the-box

Windows 8.1 devices have you covered for safety and security. Use BitLocker hardware encryption, support for virtual smart cards, and fingerprint recognition from the Windows 8.1 biometric framework to get your system safe and secure.

Bringing the touch-first experience to non-touch systems

Inspire user confidence and bring the reality of a touch-first experience to non-touch systems using Direct Touch and precision touchpads.

Great camera capture and real-time communications

Windows 8.1 elevates camera capture and real-time communication by supporting responsive picture capture and onboard video processing and streaming. The audio system gets a boost with support for front and back microphones, improved echo cancellation, and new audio capture. These changes drive the next generation of content creation, media optimization, playback, and sharing.

High performance and longer battery life

Supporting a variety of processors and architectures, including the latest in low-power chipsets, Windows 8.1 enables you to design and build lightweight mobile devices with high performance, energy efficiency, and longer battery life. With support for solid state hybrid drives, customers get faster boot, resume, and app launch times and increased storage capacity for less money.

Connectivity wherever you go

Working on the go? Not a problem. Windows 8.1 delivers a great always-on and always connected experience with better mobile broadband features and improved support for Bluetooth and NFC. New support for WiFi-Direct enables high bandwidth connections between devices using the same frequency range as Wi-Fi. With support for tethering, customers with mobile broadband can create a personal hotspot and share their connection with other devices.

Improved experience for Windows store device apps

Windows Store device apps are now easier to create and certify. With Windows 8.1:

  • Device apps automatically start when a device is plugged in.
  • Device operations can run as background tasks.
  • You can update firmware even when an app is moved to the background and suspended.

Windows Runtime enhancements for hardware and devices

The Windows Runtime makes it easier than ever to take full advantage of hardware and device innovations with native support for protocol-based and device specific APIs. The Windows Runtime now provides native support for Human Interface Devices (HID), Universal Serial Bus (USB), and Bluetooth connectivity.

Human Interface Device (HID)

New Windows Runtime HID APIs (Windows.Devices.HumanInterfaceDevice) let your Windows Store app access devices that support the Human Interface Device (HID) protocol. When it was first developed, the HID protocol targeted devices like keyboards, mice, and joysticks and was designed to run over the USB transport. Today the HID protocol supports a significantly larger set of devices including keypads, digitizers, pen devices, sensors and barcode-scanners.

Universal Serial Bus (USB)

Using the new USB namespace (Windows.Devices.USB), you can write a Windows Store app that talks to a peripheral device for which Microsoft doesn't already provide an in-box class driver.

Bluetooth

Windows Store apps can use the new RFCOMM namespace (Windows.Devices.Bluetooth.Rfcomm) and GATT namespace (Windows.Devices.Bluetooth.GenericAttributeProfile) to access Bluetooth devices. These APIs provide access to the Bluetooth BR/EDR and Bluetooth LE transports.

Device specific APIs

Point of Service (POS), 3D Printers, and scanners are now natively supported by the Windows Runtime.

Point of Service (POS)

The new POS namespace (Windows.Devices.PointOfService) is based on the industry standard Unified Point of Service (UPOS) specification. It provides Windows Store apps with access to barcode scanners and magnetic stripe readers and provides an easy migration path for POS developers to migrate desktop apps that were written using Microsoft POS for .NET.

3D Printing

Windows 8.1 adds support for 3D printing, allowing printers to seamlessly install with plug and play support, to queue jobs for printing, and to be managed by Windows. It also enables Windows Store apps to submit 3D print jobs to these devices.

Scanning

The new scanning namespace (Windows.Devices.Scan) contains the classes, interfaces, structures and other components built on top of the Windows Image Acquisition (WIA) COM APIs to provide native scanning support for Windows Store apps.

Developing drivers for Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 introduces a new driver framework (UMDF 2.0), which has been designed to improve system stability and make it easier for developers to create, test, and certify drivers.

Improved system reliability

UMDF 2.0 shares many of the methods previously restricted to KMDF. This means that driver developers can now load a driver into user mode, increasing the overall system stability and reliability without losing performance. In user mode, any fatal issue in the driver only causes the current device stack to stop, but not crash the whole system.

Easier programming model

UMDF 2.0 is designed to make developing drivers simpler. You can program using C and C++ programming models, a major change from earlier (1.x) versions of UMDF, which required you use COM.

All interfaces now shared between UMDF and KMDF have the same names, parameters, and structure definitions. This means you can use either UMDF or KMDF to compile any drivers with only shared functionality, or drivers that use conditional macros for calls only supported in one framework.

Making money in the Windows Store

Windows 8 introduced the world to the Windows Store, a new way to discover and download apps for Windows. In addition to the best financial terms in the industry, the Windows Store offers leading discoverability, merchandising, and monetization options to help you build your global business.

Better discoverability

Store enhancements

The refreshed Windows Store is alive with activity, just like Windows. It's home to an expanding catalog of great new apps, and recommendations are relevant and personal, pointing users to apps they’ll love.

More merchandising opportunities

We've designed the Windows Store to have the most merchandising opportunities for your apps. Browsing the catalog of “New & Rising" and “Trending” apps gives you fresh and exciting apps every day. And catalog views provide more info about apps to help build quicker connections with potential customers.

Richer visual assets to describe your apps

richer visual assets to describe your apps

Tiles that represent your app in the Windows Store are improved and more visually striking. The Windows Store now supports three different tile sizes: a small tile (50x50px), used on the product description page, a medium tile (310x150px), and a large tile (a scaled-down screenshot of the app), which is used for personalized recommendations. Topic pages and “Picks for you” are refreshed to highlight these new visual assets.

Even better economics

Hard work pays off. We’ve designed the Windows Store with that in mind. The Store gives you the best financial opportunity in the industry, with the best developer split and access to millions of Windows users worldwide.

  • With a stored value gift card, users who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get apps or in-app content from the Windows Store now can. The availability of gift cards makes the Windows Store more accessible to prospective customers, especially in locales where access to credit cards is uncommon. Customers can purchase redeemable codes online, or find a gift card in a brick-and-mortar store.
  • Support for in-app consumables enables you to manage the sale and license of content that can be purchased, used, and then purchased again. Your app can now use the familiar and trusted experience within the Windows Store to manage those transactions.
  • Windows Store apps now support larger catalogs of in-app items, removing the 200 item limitation in Windows 8.

Larger app package sizes

The Windows Store now supports larger package sizes (up to 8 gigabytes) and app bundles. App bundles help optimize the packaging and distribution of Windows Store apps, and resources in app packages are better managed for streamlined distribution.

Certification enhancements

Changes to the Windows App Certification Kit make validating Windows Store apps easier and more efficient, leading to higher-quality apps. To help you find problems early, run this tool at any point during the development process. Changes in the tool include:

  • Selective test execution, which helps you find specific tests that can help as you develop, speed up test runs, and provide more targeted results.
  • Concurrent test execution, which allows tests to run in parallel, rather than serially, and gets results more quickly.
  • An improved UI, enhanced reporting, and added context sensitive help to improve kit usability, while providing more useful guidance to help interpret results.

Modern engineering enables the next wave of app innovation

Windows is engineered with innovation in mind. The platform is constantly evolving and improving, thanks to great customer feedback and user telemetry, enabling advances across hardware, devices, and the user experience.

Single sign-on

When a user logs on to a Windows 8.1 device using their Microsoft Account, they’re instantly connected to the services and info they care about most. Windows 8.1 provides an easy-to-use API that you can use to manage identity tokens and interact with web services. The net result for users is fewer requests to input credentials, as they stay authenticated across experiences.

PDF support

Windows Store apps using C++ can now natively render PDF content directly to a DirectX drawing surface. This enables fast and fluid presentation of PDF-based content within a Windows Store app.

Text-to-speech

Windows Store apps now support the same text-to-speech technology as other Windows apps, using easily invoked Windows Runtime APIs.

WinJS Scheduler

The new WinJS Scheduler improves performance of WinJS apps by consolidating work queues and ensuring that high priority tasks get completed at the right time.

Networking improvements

The world is getting more connected, and apps that connect to a web service in the cloud are the norm, not the exception. Windows 8.1 introduces a number of different improvements to the networking platform to help you create great connected apps on Windows.

Windows.Web.HTTP

With Windows 8.1, you get a new HTTP API for apps that target HTTP or REST-based services. This API offers more capabilities and better performance to support today’s connected apps. The API is flexible enough to support basic, site-specific, and advanced HTTP scenarios.

Improved web authentication broker

With Windows 8.1 and single sign-on, credentials are effectively shared from IE to the Web Authentication Broker, and to other services the user interacts with. The result is much improved credential roaming, allowing the user to truly sign-on once, without managing separate credentials for every service.

HTTP prefetching

With Windows 8.1, apps can take advantage of prefetching app content via HTTP before it's actually needed—that way the content is ready immediately when the user wants it. Using this API, a background task can download content using a list of URI resources that should be prefetched. When the user launches the associated app, the content appears fresh, without a costly roundtrip to the server.

Improved background networking

New real-time communication (RTC) features improve the user experience for apps that use background networking. This support enables connected standby mode. Apps can use this feature to request, with user permission, that a download or upload continue when it might normally be interrupted.

Desktop app advancements

Windows is the only platform that’s optimized for productivity and mobility. The Windows desktop continues to add support so you can build outstanding productivity experiences that take full advantage of the latest hardware.

High DPI support

Windows 8.1 improves support for high DPI monitors (200+ DPI). Apps can take advantage of high-DPI screens by listening for an event, and can change their pixel density if moved to a lower DPI monitor. This allows you to create more beautiful apps with higher resolution assets that look great on the latest hardware.

Direct composition

Improvements to DirectComposition enable smoother animations and effects for XAML developers, enabling parity with WinJS apps. With Windows 8.1, XAML developers can combine their app's UI elements and create responsive and efficient animations that fulfill the promise of the “fast and fluid” Windows UI. In addition, with changes to DirectComposition, you can choose the best presentation framework for each element of your app’s UI, enabling hybrid presentation scenarios where XAML and HTML5 work hand-in-hand to deliver the most compelling user experience.

Direct manipulation

Updates to DirectManipulation APIs increase app responsiveness, and add ways to interact with apps.

  • Cross-slide is a new gesture used for selection and for initiating drag-and-drop via touch.
  • Autoscroll allows users to automatically scroll once they reach the end of visible content.
  • Native support for panning and zooming via a touchpad helps users without touch displays take advantage of touch capabilities of Windows 8.1.

Powerful tools and all the resources you need

We've evolved the best developer tools in the industry to make you even more productive.

Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows 8.1

Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows 8.1 is a free, lightweight version of the powerful Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE). Visual Studio is packaged with Blend for Visual Studio, which includes tools you can use to develop compelling user interfaces using either XAML or HTML5 and CSS3. Blend is design-centric to help you visually build complex user interfaces, including drag and drop Windows controls, design-time data binding, and in-place styling of data and control templates.

Windows Store app templates

All templates have been updated for Windows 8.1. Visual Studio 2013 introduces the Hub App template, which enables both JavaScript and XAML programmers to more easily use hub navigation.

Azure Mobile Services and Push Notification Wizard

Visual Studio 2013 enables you to use an Azure Mobile Service as a backend for your app or add push notifications to your app using Azure Mobile Services.

Improved packaging

Resource packages and app bundles enable you to combine multiple image scales, sets of localized content, and Direct3D feature levels from the packaging wizard. Only the applicable set of resources will be downloaded to users' devices, allowing apps to download faster. With the packaging wizard, you can also remotely validate your app on another device without manually installing Visual Studio or other software. You can also reserve a name for your app right from the packaging wizard.

Coded UI test

Coded UI test allows you to use the cross-hair tool to write automated functional tests for testing Windows Store apps.

Editor productivity

The enhanced scrollbar is integrated into Visual Studio 2013 to provide visual cues about your code structure, and brace completion saves you time by closing braces for you. The NavigateTo feature helps you reach your destination faster.

Enhanced visual design

Visual Studio now offers a third visual theme, Blue, to complement the existing Light and Dark themes. All themes have also been enhanced to provide additional color and clarity in icons, and more contrast across the IDE.

Windows Dev Center

The refreshed Windows dev center is full of resources, samples, and videos to help you build or transition your apps to Windows 8.1. You'll find detailed walkthroughs for key developer scenarios, videos that help you quickly integrate new features, and hundreds of samples to jumpstart your projects.

For more info, see What's New in Visual Studio 2013.

Updating to Windows 8.1 is easy

Windows 8.1 is delivered free to users via the Windows Store, and transitioning your apps to take full advantage of new features and performance improvements in Windows 8.1 easy. The Windows Dev Center is full of resources, samples, and helpful videos to help you make the switch.

If you don't update your apps right away, they'll still work with Windows 8.1. When you're ready, you can either recompile your existing Window Store apps so they launch and run faster or rebuild your app to take advantage of the new platform. When you make updates to your Windows 8.1 apps they automatically get pushed to app users—no need for them to return to the Windows Store to download an update.

Windows 8.1 takes Windows to new heights, enabling you to achieve your creative vision with the widest reach of any platform. Windows has already reached a billion people worldwide. Windows 8.1 opens the door to the next billion customers, with a developer platform that's evolved and improved from the ground up.


Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows

Try out Microsoft Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows to build, test, and deploy Windows Store apps. This includes the Windows SDK For Windows 8.1, Blend for Visual Studio, and project templates. Get details about Visual Studio Express 2013.

Get the Windows 8.1 samples

Check out the new Windows Store app samples available for Windows 8.1! To save time, you can also download all the samples at one time with the Windows 8.1 app samples pack:

Get the Windows SDK for Windows

Get the headers, libraries, and tools you need to create Windows Store apps, in the language of your choice. (Includes the Windows App Certification Kit.) Learn more about the Windows SDK for Windows 8.1.

Reprinted with permission.


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