Microsoft Reveals Windows 8.1 Update Details, Will Make Windows Free For Some Tablets

Microsoft Wednesday shared details about its upcoming Windows 8.1 Update, and the software giant has decided to make its touch-enabled operating system easier to use for people who prefer keyboards and mice.

At its Build conference in San Francisco, Microsoft said will make the Windows 8.1 Update available to Windows 8 customers as a free download from its Windows Store starting April 8. Customers running Windows 8.1 will get a new version for free through Windows Update.

In an admission that the touch-enabled Metro interface in Windows 8 doesn't appeal to everyone, the Windows 8.1 Update lets PC users boot to the desktop screen by default, instead of the touch version.

[Related: Sources: Microsoft In Talks To Acquire Mobile App Startup Xamarin ]

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Microsoft is also pre-pinning the Windows Store to the taskbar so it's easier to find for keyboard and mouse users. And in a coming update, Microsoft will also make the Windows Store interface more keyboard- and mouse-friendly, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president in Microsoft's Operating Systems group, said in a keynote at Build.

Some Windows 8.1 users have had trouble figuring out where to find apps after downloading them, so Microsoft is adding a prompt that shows where the new apps are installed.

After restoring the traditional Windows Start button in Windows 8.1, Microsoft now plans to bring back the Start menu to a future version of Windows, Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Operating Systems group, said in the keynote.

Microsoft's Universal Windows Apps, which let developers write one set of code for apps that run on PCs tablets and smartphones, will run in a window in a future version of Windows as opposed to in full-screen mode, Myerson said.

Myerson didn't specify whether this future version of Windows will be Windows 8.1 Update 2 or Windows 9 Threshold, the next generation of the operating system that's expected to arrive next year.

Microsoft is also making Windows available without royalty fees to hardware partners that make Windows Phones and tablets with screens less than 9 inches, Myerson said. And when Microsoft releases a future version of Windows designed for the Internet Of Things, that version will also be free for hardware partners, he added.

In a blog post after the keynote, Myerson acknowledged that it is "tricky" for Microsoft to share road map details because these details could change. But given the massive changes going on as Microsoft transitions to being a leader in devices and services, it’s a risk Microsoft is willing to take.

"But as our industry, our company, and Windows are in the midst of a pretty massive transformation in the way we build and deliver innovation to customers, partners and developers, we are taking some steps to be more transparent in signaling what’s ahead," Myerson said in the blog post.