Microsoft has announced that Windows 8.1, aka Blue, will be a free upgrade for all Windows 8 users. Microsoft has also confirmed that it intends to release a public preview of Windows 8.1 on June 26, the first day of the Build developer conference — and if everything goes to plan, you should be able to get your hands on Windows 8.1 sometime in the fall (it should release to manufacturing in August). As expected, there’s also a Windows 8.1 update for Windows RT.
For users who don’t already have Windows 8, you’ll have be able to buy a standalone version of Windows 8.1 — which will be priced the same as Windows 8 ($200 for the full product, or $120 for the upgrade). Microsoft has previously confirmed that Windows 8.1 will be available as an easy upgrade from the Windows Store, much in the same way that Apple distributes OS X upgrades via the Mac App Store. It isn’t clear if there will also be boxed versions of Windows 8.1, or if 8.1 will be a purely digital product.
Windows 8.1 (Microsoft, like Picasso, has now officially ended its “Blue” period) is a Windows 8 feature and service pack. Like a service pack, Windows 8.1 will roll up all of the Windows 8 security updates and fixes into a single installer. In this regard, Windows 8.1 is conventional. What is unconventional, however, is the release of a service pack that also significantly alters the interface, bundled apps, and overall user experience — i.e. a feature pack. Normally we would have to wait three years for Windows 9 for major changes, but Windows 8.1 represents the beginning of Microsoft’s shift to a faster, annual release cycle. This change, which affects almost every Microsoft software product, is due to the mobile ecosystem — and thus Microsoft’s biggest opposition — moving a lot faster than the desktop PC. Put simply, Windows 8 can’t complete in the tablet space if Microsoft only puts out a new release every three years, while Apple and Google release new OS versions every year.
As for what features Windows 8.1 will actually include, there’s still very little to report. There are strong leaks that indicate that the Start menu and button will return, and a leaked early build of Windows 8.1 shows some changes/updates to the Metro interface. There have also been repeated hints that Windows 8.1 will bring 7- and 8-inch tablets into the fold (at the moment, Windows 8 essentially requires a 10-inch display). Beyond that, Microsoft has merely said that Windows 8.1 will “respond to consumer feedback.”
In other news, Microsoft says it now has 70,000 Metro apps in the Windows Store — and, speaking at the JP Morgan Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Windows CFO Tami Reller says that Microsoft won’t drop Windows RT/ARM support, despite Intel’s incoming Bay Trail chips.
Windows 8.1 will be a free upgrade