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Microsoft Windows Blue: early build and screenshots leaked online

A tease of the upcoming update to Windows 8 has surfaced online, with a number of leaked screenshots showing off some of the cosmetic and under-the-hood changes Microsoft has in store for its "Windows Blue" update.

First up, Microsoft appears to be expanding the allowable size of tiles that one can place on Windows 8's Start Screen – permitting tiles that are one-fourth the size of a typical tile (i.e. envision splitting one normal-sized tile into four tinier titles), as well as titles that are up to four times as big.

Microsoft's also throwing in some additional customisation options into the mix, adding what appears to be a Charms Bar menu for Start Screen called "Personalize" that allows a user to swap out one's background, edit background colors, and edit accent colors directly from the operating system's sidebar.

The ability to more easily mess with Windows 8's settings without having to jump through all sorts of hoops and menu options seems to be a common theme within Windows Blue. For Microsoft's also apparently adding in a few extra settings within the Start Screen-based "PC settings" section – presumably to keep users, especially those on tablets, from having to jump into a Desktop Mode-driven settings panel.

A new option for SkyDrive configuration joins a breakout menu for editing one's Lock screen, a new section for Network and Apps-related settings, and a separate "Update & Recovery" menu presumably for editing Windows' auto-update settings (and disaster management). Additionally, a new "Screen" menu will give Windows 8 users the ability to edit related power-saving features, in addition to tweaking other display settings and flipping their devices' touch feedback on and off.

Perhaps one of the more noticeable additions to Windows 8 will come in the form of stronger split-screen treatment for Windows 8 apps. Users will now be able to divide their screens in half and run two apps at a time that take up equal portions of one's display real estate. And for those slightly crazier, you'll even be able to split your screen into a setup that allows four apps to run concurrently – a quad, perhaps?

If you'd like to check out all the update goodies for yourself, a leaked version of a Windows Blue partner build is making its way on various file-sharing sites (that we're not going to specifically list). However, a more legitimate copy of the update is likely to come in the form of a Microsoft-sanctioned public preview released at some point in the next few months – as specific a deadline as we've been able to glean so far. Windows Blue is expected to officially launch at some point later this year.