Microsoft has released a preview version of Windows 8.1. It’s available as a free update from the Windows Store, and Microsoft will also offer a free downloadable ISO if you want to install the software on a computer that’s not already running Windows 8.
Download information is available at the Windows site, and while you don’t need a product key if you’re updating form Windows 8, new users will have to register with the product key: NTTX3-RV7VB-T7X7F-WQYYY-9Y92F.
Among other things, Microsoft says Windows 8.1 better balances the classic desktop user interface and the new “Modern” touch-friendly user interface.
To much applause, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told developers at today’s MS Build conference that the Start Button has returned, and users can choose to boot straight into the desktop without first seeing the Start Screen.
Windows 8.1 also adds new capabilities to the Modern UI. For instance, you can now have three or more apps on the screen at once, and you can resize each item. In fact, Micrsoft even showed off 8 Windows 8.1 apps running simultaneously on 2 different monitors.
There’s support for devices with smaller screen sizes, more customization options, and built-in support for Bing search so that you can get local results and web results from the same place.
Microsoft has added gesture support to the keyboard, letting you slide across the spacebar for recommended words, and slide-up to change certain characters.
Windows 8.1 also has built-in support for 3D printers, which means developers can write 3D printing apps and let you send the output to a printer the same way you would a normal printer.
Many apps, including Xbox Music, Outlook, and Internet Explorer have been tweaked or redesigned — although the full Modern UI version of Microsoft Office isn’t expected to launch until 2014. That probably won’t be included with Windows anyway, but will instead be sold as a standalone app unless you buy a device that comes with it preloaded.
The company did show off a preview build of the Modern version of PowerPoint during the MS Build keynote today.
As you’d expect from a developer conference, much of the Build keynote dealt with development tools, changes to the Windows Store, and other information for app makers. One of the most important things for users to know is that Windows 8.1 apps will be updated automatically, so you won’t need to go and into the Windows Store to manually update Modern-style apps.