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Microsoft Plans Spring Updates for Windows, Phones

Microsoft Plans Spring Updates for Windows, Phones
February 25, 2014 9:51AM

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Among other things, tech titan Microsoft will add search, power and settings buttons to the Windows Start page so that users don't have to figure out how to pull those functions like a sock drawer from the right. There also will be easier, touch-free ways to close apps. Microsoft is also updating its Windows Phone system this spring.

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Microsoft will update its Windows system this spring to address some of the gripes people have had when they use devices without touch capabilities.

Windows 8 and last fall's 8.1 update were designed for a touch environment. But some of the gesture commands don't translate well when using traditional mouse and keyboard controls.

Among other things, Microsoft Corp. will add search, power and settings buttons to the Start page, so that users don't have to figure out how to pull those functions like a sock drawer from the right. There also will be easier, touch-free ways to close apps.

Microsoft is also updating its Windows Phone system this spring to work better in corporate environments and to bring features desired in fast-growing emerging markets.

The announcement came Sunday before the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona.

Many of the changes are geared at reducing manufacturing costs.

In essence, Microsoft is relaxing hardware requirements. For instance, there will be no longer a requirement that phones have a physical camera button and three control buttons on the front. That can be done through software instead, the approach used in many Android phones. Meanwhile, tablets and personal computers won't need as much memory and storage as before.

Microsoft is also allowing phones to support two SIM cards, something in demand in China, India and other emerging markets where prices and plans vary so much that people switch services constantly for the best deals. For developed markets, Microsoft plans improvements for corporations, including VPN support on phones so people can access work networks securely.

More details on the phone changes are expected at Microsoft's Build conference for software developers in April. Microsoft said nothing about pricing, although these updates have typically been free to download. The company also did not disclose the name of either Windows update.

Microsoft also announced the availability of a Facebook Messenger phone app in the next few weeks.

Microsoft used Mobile World Congress two years ago to release a test version of its Windows 8 operating system, months before its October 2012 debut.

The system was a response to the growing popularity of smartphones and tablet computers, which have been siphoning sales from personal computers running Windows. Windows 8 emphasizes touch controls, just like mobile devices, and borrows much of its look and feel from Microsoft's Windows Phone system for smartphones.

Many consumers, however, hate having that approach on PCs. Research firm IDC blamed Windows 8 for accelerating a decline in PCs -- by 14 percent in the first three months of 2013, the first full quarter with Windows 8. (continued...)

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