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Hands-On with Windows 8.1: Lock Screen

Hands-On with Windows 8.1: Lock Screen

Now more personal and more useful

While the lock screen that Microsoft provides with the Windows 8/RT was beautiful and could be personalized in basic ways, it wasn’t particularly dynamic. So in Windows 8.1, the lock screen is being upgraded to be even more personal, with a dynamic photo slideshow feature, and more useful, with camera and Skype integration.

Lock screen settings are now configured in PC & Devices, Lock Screen in PC Settings.

As you can see, there are additional settings now. You can choose a static background as before, or you can choose to play a photo slideshow on the lock screen. The big deal here is that you can choose multiple source locations for those photos, which can include local (on PC) folders as well as locations in SkyDrive.

The results are pretty impressive, with the view animating between full-screen shots and those displayed in various grids.

An option called Let Windows choose pictures for my slide show is interesting. According to Microsoft, this removes some of the randomness from the picture selection and introduces some intelligence. For example, if it’s June, you will see photos from June in previous years.

But the new lock screen isn’t just about the beauty of your own photos. It also offers a couple of useful changes too.

First, because many people will be using Windows mini-tablets as cameras, Microsoft has integrated the camera app into the lock screen: Just swipe down from the lock screen to take pictures with the camera. (This works as with Windows Phone in that you can’t perform certain options without first signing in.)

It also integrates with Skype. I’ve not been able to test this yet, but in a demo before Build, Microsoft showed me how Skype calls would appear as a new notification type on top of the lock screen, giving you the option to connect via video, audio, or IM. In this way, when grandma calls your children, or whatever, they can speak instantly without having to first sign-in. Nice.

What’s still missing from the lock screen, however, is any form of useful notification. As with Windows Phone, the Windows 8.1 lock screen sports a single detailed status notification and a set of borderline useless quick status notification icons. (It also offers a single alarm icon.) But they aren’t interactive: You can't tap a notification to see more or to navigate directly to the underlying app. Perhaps we’ll see something more sophisticated there in Windows 8.2.

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