Microsoft to release free Windows 8.1 update as public preview next month

windows8Microsoft this morning gave more details about the Windows 8 overhaul known previously as “Windows Blue” — confirming it will be called Windows 8.1 and be released as a free update for existing Windows 8 machines through the Windows Store.

The company also said it will release a public preview of Windows 8.1 on June 26, coinciding with its Build developer conference in San Francisco.

Tami Reller, the Windows marketing and finance chief, made the announcement this morning at the JP Morgan technology and media conference in Boston. It’s part of a shift by the Windows team toward a “continuous product improvement cycle,” she said. The final version will be released later this year, she said, making it clear that it will be out in time for the holiday PC buying season.

Microsoft is attempting to rebound after an underwhelming launch of Windows 8. The operating system introduced a series of changes to make Windows work more effectively on tablets and other touch devices, but those same changes created a learning curve for longtime users of Windows on traditional desktop machines.

Microsoft hasn’t given official details of the Windows 8.1 update, but the company says that part of the goal is to respond to “customer feedback.” According to earlier reports, the company has been working to bring back a version of the Start button to the traditional Windows desktop, and allow users to boot directly to the desktop, bypassing the Start screen that was introduced with Windows 8. Those are two of the changes that can make Windows 8 a significant adjustment for new users.

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