Today Microsoft VP and Windows CFO Tami Reller revealed that Windows 8.1 will be the official name for the OS formerly known as Blue. It will include some updates to the UI formerly known as Metro. While she did not discuss the fact that Win8.1 will include an option for a start button, there are plenty of reports that "the button" will be included.
I think most people were expecting Windows 8 Service Pack One after a year. Then the "Blue" project was created to help people see that Microsoft was going to make feature changes to the next version of Windows 8. So instead of a service pack, it will be a (minor) version update.
Windows 8.1 will be a free update and will be delivered through the Windows Store.
[No, not the Store. The app store, which they call the Windows Store. If you go to the Windows store, they'll just tell you to go to the Windows Store. Then you'll say "Who's on First?"]
Reller said that a public preview of Windows 8.1 will be available starting on June 26th for Windows 8 and Windows RT. The timing is set to coordinate the release with the Build developer conference in San Francisco.
Of course Microsoft is not saying when the full 8.1 version will be released, but they are very fond of October and November releases.
Another widely expected feature is the ability to boot directly to the desktop. The 8.1 upgrade is also expected to have other UI updates that make Windows 8 easier to use on smaller tablets. So they'll need to get that code to the OEMs in time to put smaller devices on the store shelves for Christmas.
Microsoft's Frank Shaw Appears Irritated That Consumers Don't Love Windows 8
Last Friday, May 10th, Shaw wrote a short post on the Official Microsoft Blog that there's a real drawback to having so many bloggers out there publishing their opinions:
"In this world where everyone is a publisher, there is a trend to the extreme - where those who want to stand out opt for sensationalism and hyperbole over nuanced analysis. In this world where page views are currency, heat is often more valued than light. Stark black-and-white caricatures are sometimes more valued than shades-of-gray reality."
He points to two examples:
Tech Hub - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/330c8b8e-b66b-11e2-93ba-00144feabdc0.html
The Economist - http://www.economist.com/news/business/21577371-windows-8-only-beginning-microsofts-problems-microsoft-blues
Shaw is irritated with the fact that Microsoft's reversal on some features is being compared to the "New Coke" failure in 1985 (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7209828/ns/us_news/t/it-seemed-good-idea-time). I agree that analogy is a little extreme. As someone at Microsoft casually commented to me in a personal email, Windows 8 is essentially Windows 7 with a new user interface. So the product's not broken per se. They've just made it harder for power users to use.
As a whining blogger, I don't think I go to extremes very often. But when such a massive amount of public response to a product is focused like a laser beam on a few items, it would be foolish for Microsoft to ignore them.
I've been surprised and a little amazed that Microsoft's public stand on the "Start Button" and "Boot to Desktop" features has been 1) You don't know what you really want. 2) You don't even need an option. Get over it. 3) You really like the new interface. You just think you don't like it.
Now the message is: 1) Oh shit. You really DO want that! Okay. 2) We'll give you the option. 3) If you don't like the new interface, don't use it.
I'm sorry it will be a full year from the original release date, but Microsoft's sales will (probably) improve once these changes are in place.
For a PR-loaded version of the announcement, see the Microsoft Windows blog post: http://blogs.windows.com/windows/b/bloggingwindows/archive/2013/05/14/windows-keeps-getting-better.aspx