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Build 2013: Ballmer Announces Windows 8.1 Preview Download with Start Button

The biggest objection to Windows 8 since its release last fall is its failure to appeal to longtime users of the operating system's traditional desktop while drawing them to the new modern interface.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer tacitly acknowledged that fact this morning as he gave the opening keynote of the Build conference in San Francisco, clearly the event of the year for Microsoft. Minutes into his keynote, Ballmer officially announced the release of the Windows 8.1 Preview.

Since the release of Windows 8 back in October, Ballmer said about 100,000 applications have appeared in the Windows Store that run on the new modern interface and application model.

But Ballmer also said there are 2 to 3 million applications designed to run on the traditional Windows desktop environment. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft is aiming to make it easier for users to access the environment and applications they prefer, while making clear that over time it hopes to see most key applications move to the new model. In other words, he's putting the training wheels back on.

"What we will show you today is a refined blend of our desktop experience and our modern user interface and application experience," Ballmer said. That wasn't quite a mea culpa but he positioned the move as a re-tweaking that Microsoft hopes will address the key objections existing and potential users have had to Windows 8.

In the worst-kept secret in the world of Windows, Microsoft has indeed brought the Start button back to Windows, along with a bootable desktop.

"You will see that we [brought] back the start button to the desktop," Ballmer said. "If you want to boot to the desktop, you can boot to the desktop." The response was a rousing applause, which isn't surprising given the reaction we've heard from you over the past several months.

However in a surprising move, Ballmer also announced that Microsoft is embedding its Bing search engine properties across its line of products. It will include adding its Bing search engine in Windows 8.1 as well as for Windows Phone, Office and Skype. Microsoft calls the project Bing as a Platform (see Microsoft's Search blog).

"With Windows 8.1, I would say Bing is inside," Ballmer said. "Our shell experience is powered by Bing, You'll see we are opening up Bing as an application development platform, so you can use all this investment we have put into crawling the Web and understanding entities. You can use that, see that and build that richness into your applications running on top of Windows."

In addition to bringing Bing to Windows, Microsoft is offering Bing Developer Services, which will let those building applications to embed search capability in them.

Indeed, if you're tired of reading about the updates coming to Windows 8.1, now you can see it for yourself. Existing Windows 8 users can access the preview in the Windows Store. Microsoft also said it's available for download here.

My colleagues Michael Desmond and John K. Waters are live on the scene at Build and you'll see plenty of coverage from them, myself and my colleagues at Redmond Channel Partner and Visual Studio Magazine in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, check out the preview and let me know what you think by commenting below or dropping me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/26/2013 at 1:15 PM


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