Windows 8.1 will get portrait mode, other tablet tweaks

Microsoft and its partners are beginning to show and tell more about the features that 7- and 8-inch Windows 8.1 "Blue" devices will offer.

Mary Jo Foley
Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network.
Mary Jo Foley
2 min read
The Acer Iconia W3 Philip Wong/CNET

Some Windows OEMs showed off coming small form-factor Windows 8 tablets as part of Computex this week.

Microsoft didn't take the wraps off its rumored 8-inch Surface at the show. But the company did share a few more tidbits about some of the changes it's making to Windows 8 with the 8.1 "Blue" release that will potentially make these smaller devices more usable.

Among the new small-screen devices that Microsoft's partners showed this week were the 8-inch Acer Iconia W3 (with the outsized keyboard); the Lenovo MiiX 8, an 8-inch tablet with a stylus and 3G; 8-inch AMD Temash-based reference machines from Gigabyte and Quanta that companies can customize; and the 7-inch quad-core Inventec device.

One of the key changes Microsoft is touting for this coming generation of devices is improved portrait-mode support. Windows Corporate Vice President of Program Management Antoine Lebond explained what's coming on the portrait-mode front during his remarks at Computex this week:

(W)e did some work in Windows 8.1 to have portrait-specific Start screen layouts that work much better. All of the apps that are in the box actually work just as well in portrait mode as they work in landscape.

We did some work at the device interface level around edge detection and things like that to make it easier to have smaller bezels on these devices so that OEMs and folks who build devices like this could build exactly the kinds of devices they want, and Windows 8.1 will be great on them.

That's good news for anyone who has been frustrated when trying to use their Surface RT or Pro -- or other Windows 8 or Windows RT tablets -- in portrait mode to no avail.

Leblond also talked up some previously disclosed Windows 8.1 features, such as the Metrofied PC Settings, more versatile Snap options, and touch-keyboard autosuggestion improvements as making smaller-screen Windows 8 devices workable. 

Microsoft's disclosure earlier this week that it will make Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote (Office Home & Student 2013) available on sub-10-inch Intel-based Windows 8.1 devices left some scratching their heads, as desktop versions of these apps on Office are not touch-optimized.

I'm wondering if Microsoft might be making the Metro/Windows Store versions of these apps available in the box, instead. The Metro-Style versions of these four apps are in development as part of Microsoft's "Gemini" wave of products. Maybe there's a Metro version of the Office Home & Student 2013 SKU coming? 

This story originally appeared as "Windows 8.1 to get portrait-mode, other small-tablet tweaks" on ZDNet.