Microsoft updates Mail, Calendar and People apps in Windows 8, Windows RT

Just as last week was winding down, we heard a credible rumor that Microsoft was about to update some of the native apps found in Windows 8 / Windows RT. Turns out, that report was on the money: the company unveiled some changes today to Mail, Calendar and People, with a particular focus on speed improvements. None of these updates will be available to download until tonight or tomorrow, says a Microsoft rep, so don't all of you go making a beeline for the Windows Store at once now. If you're itching for a preview, though, we've got a summary of the new features after the break, along with a few extra screenshots.

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Microsoft updates the Mail, Calendar and People apps in Windows 8, Windows RT

Across the board, Microsoft is promising lots of performance improvements, which should be most obvious in Windows RT, according to a product manager who gave us an early look at the new apps. We're talking everything from app load times to opening a new message to deleting items -- everything should feel just a bit quicker. Unfortunately, that's not the sort of thing we were able to demo over the phone with Microsoft, and it's definitely not something we can illustrate here, so you're just going to have to download the updates and let us know if you notice any differences.

In addition to that speed boost, though, Microsoft sprinkled in a few new features and functionalities, with Mail easily being the most improved. For starters, you can now create folders from within the app, as well as delete and rename them. (This works even if you use a mail service like Gmail that's not run by Microsoft.) Likewise, you can flag messages now, mark things as junk and view your unread items only. In the case of flagged items, there's also a flagged items folder to match, so that you can jump straight to 'em.

But wait, there's more. With this update, you can also search for mail on the server, add and edit links while drafting a message, and save senders as new contacts. Additionally, the company added a new feature that doesn't just suggest people you might want to put in the "To" field; it displays their names as small pop-ups, making it easier to address an email if you're using a tablet. (The Windows 8 onscreen keyboard is great and all, but tapping the suggested contact is probably easier, so long as the algorithm's guesswork is right.) Wrapping up, business users can impose certain security restrictions, such as "Do Not Forward." Finally, thanks to some code tweaks, you should have an easier time pasting formatted content into emails, as well as editing bulleted and numbered lists.

Microsoft updates the Mail, Calendar and People apps in Windows 8, Windows RT

Moving on, the Calendar app has gotten a visual facelift, along with a workweek-only view that shows just Monday through Friday. Similar to Google Cal, there's now a dateline showing where you are in the day's schedule. When it comes to creating appointments, meanwhile, you can now check other people's availability, forward meeting invites, send an email to all attendees, set end dates for recurring events, and generally make use of more recurrence options.

Microsoft updates the Mail, Calendar and People apps in Windows 8, Windows RT

Of the three apps listed here, People received the fewest improvements, but there are still some welcome revisions on tap. For one, you can now post to people's Facebook walls from within the app. The app also now lets you sort the "What's New" page by social network, and all your friends' contact cards will pull in data from Exchange, which didn't used to be the case. Again, you should be able to update all three of these applications by tonight, if not tomorrow -- best keep your eyes out, folks.

Windows Blue screenshot tour