Update to Windows 8.1 “will be free” Microsoft confirm.

Microsoft have confirmed that the update for Windows 8, previously known as Windows Blue, has been given the name Windows 8.1. As many had expected, this is not just a service pack, it’s an update that changes the Windows environment dramatically. Microsoft seems reluctant to make firm commitments about the details of Windows 8.1, but there are a few important questions we do now have answers to.

1. Will this update cost anything?

Despite the initial suggestion that this would be a paid ‘premium feature’ upgrade, Microsoft have confirmed that it will be free to all Windows 8 and 8RT users. Microsoft is still keen to follow the Apple model of releasing annual updates that have to be paid for so this may be the only time they release such an update without charging for it.

2. When will it be released?

Public previews of Windows 8.1 have been arranged for June 2013, with the release confirmed to be “definitely later this year” although no date has been published yet. Most industry insiders think that October/November is the time it will appear in the Windows Store.

3. Will it boot straight to the desktop?

This has not been officially confirmed, but it is almost certain. Microsoft seem to have finally accepted that the Metro interface is not universally loved by its customers. Unlike ‘New Coke’ which was quietly killed off by Coca Cola when nobody was looking, Microsoft insist that the tile based interface is an important part of the future of Windows and Metro is here to stay.

4. Will it have a Start button?

This has been confirmed. It is still not entirely clear, however, if the Start button will behave like the full featured Start button in earlier versions of Windows, or as a cut down version that only allows navigation to programs. It will probably be somewhere in between.

5. What changes will be made to the Metro screen?

Users will be able to change the size of tiles in Metro and they will be able to arrange them in “new and exciting” ways. Bet you can hardly wait for that!

6. What else can we expect to see.

Quite a few things have been confirmed. Internet Explorer 11 is a certainty to be included in the update, and Microsoft’s cloud-based SkyDrive will be more integrated with the new version. Many Windows 7 features are due to return, including 50:50 screen splitting for programs, and classic control panel to name but two. Microsoft have also stated that 8.1 will be more “business friendly” perhaps to counter the constant criticism that Windows 8 was aimed at casual/leisure users.

7. What new features might we see?

Although most of the interest seems to be on what old features will return, there are many rumoured all new features for Windows 8.1. Fingerprint logins and unlocking have been around for a while, and there is a strong rumour that Windows 8.1 will offer this for anyone with a touchscreen. The way that charms work will be improved, and users will be able to make changes to advanced settings from either desktop mode or Metro mode. Further integration across Microsoft platforms, including Windows Phone and Xbox are also expected to be included in Windows 8.1.

So that’s what we know so far. If any more significant features are announced, I’ll update this blog with the details.

Thanks for reading.

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