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Microsoft relents on UI changes, restores Start button to Windows 8.1

Microsoft Windows 8.1 preview includes a number features -- including the Start button -- that will be accessible across a plethora of new devices.

As expected, Microsoft delivered the Windows 8.1 preview at its Build Developer Conference in San Francisco this week.

The Windows 8.1 preview comes months after the launch of Windows 8 last fall. The faster release cadence is part of Microsoft’s plan to deliver products to customers quickly.

Meanwhile, the lack of Windows 8 enterprise adoption, few Windows 8 apps in the Windows Store upon its initial launch, and industry-wide criticism over the modern user interface have all driven Microsoft to relent on its stubborn stance on the operating system’s new look and feel.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company received feedback from millions of users asking them to provide a better balance between the look of the traditional desktop and modern interface.  He also demonstrated Windows 8.1’s Start Button and boot to desktop feature, which received rounds of applause during the keynote.

Windows 8.1 also will include a sweeps feature in Outlook. For example, users can  easily clean their inbox of extraneous emails using a “sweep” feature, or can select one email, select the sweep command and delete all related emails at once.  The sweep command is not available in the Windows 8.1 preview but will ship later this year.

Microsoft demonstrated the ability to do instant video chats without unlocking a user’s screen. This is similar to what iPhones can already do today for taking photos and videos without unlocking the iPhone first.

In addition, Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2013 tools will be updated with features that provide developers a better sense for how their apps will perform on a mobile device.

Windows 8.1 also will support WebGL and Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (or MPEG Dash), as well as multi-monitor support for automatic scaling. This feature allows an app to take full advantage of a monitor’s size as it moves from one display to another.

Windows 8.1 also will natively support 3D printing.

Dig Deeper on Windows 8 and 8.1

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