We’ve been talking a lot about Windows Blue lately, trying to figure out what kind of changes it would bring. In the last few weeks the codename Windows Blue has fallen away in favor of Windows 8.1. Microsoft has now come forward to confirm that Windows 8.1 will be the official designation of the upgrade pack and that it will be available completely free of charge to all users, despite some speculation to the contrary.
It is also confirmed that a preview release will be available to the public within the next 30 days. Microsoft has already made it clear that developers will have access to the latest build as of the BUILD conference running June 26-28. Tickets have already sold out to that event, though they found room to release a few more beginning at 9am PDT today if you’re interested in attending.
Windows 8.1 will bring in a number of changes intended to placate the OS’s more vocal detractors and turn around the slow sales trend.
Leaked builds that have surfaced lately offer plenty of hints. Installing these, despite their being unfinished, allows access to a greatly expanded Start Screen personalization screen, improved Charms and Bing-powered searching, and a collection of new built-in apps. People have also dredged up signs of a Boot to Desktop option, the return of the Start button, an upgrade to Internet Explorer 11, and more.
It will be interesting to see how this turns out. Certain likely portions of the update, including the anticipated return of the Start button, will remove much of the room for complaints that have become common. There is little chance that it will kick off a wave of consumer upgrades from Windows 7 without the added incentive of a sale, but adding more familiar interface elements back in will make selling to business clients far simpler.
The same blog that finally formally acknowledged that there have been some missteps. Tami Reller, Windows CMO/CFO, came forward to talk about what they’ve done wrong and how things are getting fixed. Microsoft is working more closely with hardware partners now to get touchscreen devices into circulation (a necessity to get the very most out of Windows 8). They’re also trying to respond to a great deal of the customer feedback that has been generated since its launch back in October.
Reller said in a recent interview that “we don’t want customers to hesitate in any way.” Hopefully by acknowledging more of the customer complaints they will be able to pull that off. While 100 million licenses sold since October is a great start and puts things on par with the Windows 7 launch, it’s going to take a lot more for this to be recognized as a successful first year.