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Microsoft talks Windows Blue: expect preview by June, pricing still to come [Update]

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We are less than two months away from Microsoft’s annual Build conference that promises to give us a preview of the upcoming update to Windows 8, yet the company’s chief marketing and financial officer, Tami Reller, is already starting to reveal some new details about the so-called Windows Blue, also known as Windows 8.1.Reller_microsoft

For starters, Reller made it official in a blog post this morning that Windows Blue, the internal codename for the Windows 8 update, will be available later this year in time for the holiday season. However, Microsoft’s head of Windows engineering, Julie Larson-Green, said at the Wired Business Conference today that a public preview will be available to all Windows 8 users at the end of June.

According to Reller, the udpate will incorporate a bunch of changes that users have been asking for since the launch of both Windows 8 and RT, and will optimize the operating system for different screen sizes like the 8-inch Windows 8 tablet from Acer that made a brief appear on Amazon over the weekend.

Reller was even more talkative and specific when she spoke with ZDNet‘s Mary Jo Foley about Blue. In fact, Reller addressed one of the biggest questions we have about the upcoming update to Windows 8: will it be free? The answer, unfortunately, is no. When she told ZDNet that the “Windows team will share pricing, packaging and go-to-market details about Blue in the next couple of weeks,” we know Blue won’t be like the complimentary Service Packs that Microsoft used to release to users of previous Windows generations. 

If you have an RT device and are eager for Blue to squish some of the bugs you’ve been fighting, the upcoming revision should be able to help. Reller mentioned it’s geared for both Intel and ARM-based PCs and tablets, so it should be coming to both Windows 8 and RT. While we don’t know all of the exact changes coming to both OSes, we’ve heard there’s a chance the Start button may make a comeback. We’ve also heard Windows 8.1 will let users boot to Desktop Mode, and miniaturize the live tiles on the homescreen like on Windows Phone 8. Unfortunately, Reller wasn’t willing to confirm or deny any of these rumored features.

What Reller revealed was that the upcoming mini-Windows 8 tablets from manufacturers like Acer and Asus will arrive before Windows Blue, even though Blue will make Windows 8 work better on smaller devices. If the latest version of Windows will be available by this fall then we might be hearing about new smaller slates this summer. Will those that buy a mini-Windows 8 tablet before Blue is released have to pay for the upgrade to the latest version? We still have a lot of questions about Blue/Windows 8.1 and can’t wait to find out more as we get closer to Build 2013, which starts June 26.

[Update made at 4:30 p.m. EST to reflect June preview date.]

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