June 26, 2013 -- Microsoft has slowly released details of the next version of Windows 8 -- Windows 8.1 -- over the past month, explaining that the free software update coming later this year will address user frustration and feedback. Today, at its Build Windows Developers conference in San Francisco, the company publicly demonstrated those changes for the first time and released an early beta version for software developers to test.
The next version of Windows, Microsoft demonstrated on stage, will bring back the Start Button, a feature much missed in Windows 8, which was released in October 2012. But that's just the start -- so to speak. Here are eight other new features and tweaks coming to Windows 8.
1. Start/Boot to Desktop
Yes, this is probably the most wanted and anticipated feature in Windows 8.1. While the Start Button was removed in Windows 8, it has been added back in, although with a few caveats. While you will see the Start Button at the bottom left corner now, when you click it you won't get a menu. Instead, you will be taken back to the Start Screen where you can get to your apps and other settings.
In addition to the button, Microsoft has added a Boot to Desktop option, so right when you boot up your computer you can be taken to the desktop screen rather than the Start Screen's layout of tiles and apps.
2. Changed Backgrounds and Lock Screen
Microsoft is making a big push with 8.1 to enhance personalization with customization options. You can now change the color and background of the Start Screen to something more precise with a new color slider tool. You can also change it to a personal photo or the one that's the background on your desktop. The lock screen can now display a slideshow of your photos.
3. More Tile Sizes
This is a small feature, but one many seem to be excited about. You now have a few more size options for the tiles on your Start Screens. That means the bigger tiles can show more information right on the Start Screen. For instance, with the weather app you'll see more details about today or tomorrow's weather. You can also shrink down tiles to just be a small icon.
4. Universal Bing Search From Anywhere
When you swipe from right to left on the edge of the screen in Windows 8.1 you will still get the Search charm or button, but selecting it and typing in a search term will bring up some different results. Now, not only do you search for files on your device, but also the web via Bing. It's the fastest way to get to the web.
5. Redesigned App Store
Microsoft says its Windows Store now has 80,000 apps and is adding more by the day. Those apps will all be in a newly designed app store when Windows 8.1 launches later this year. The store has been completely redesigned with a layout that highlights apps that are recommended just for you.
6. New Paint and Camera Apps
Speaking of apps, there are some new native apps, including a new paint or "Fresh Paint" and camera app. The paint app has new tools, including oil paints, pencils and watercolors. You can blend colors and there is support for Wacom tablets. The camera app has also been updated with features similar to HTC's Zoe feature. It will capture a photo before and after you hit the shutter button so you don't miss a good shot.
7. Added App Resizing Features
With Windows 8, Microsoft introduced the ability to put two apps side by side. With Windows 8.1, you can adjust the size of those apps more precisely. Instead of a smaller app on the side of a larger app, you can split the apps evenly on the screen or resize them to your liking.
8. More Keyboard and Mouse Support
Microsoft is also emphasizing that it has made it easier to use Windows without a touchscreen. When you hover your mouse in the corners you can customize it so it takes you back to the all apps page or go back to a previous app. There has also been improved multimonitor support so you can display multiple apps on all monitors or use the desktop side-by-side with other apps.
Windows 8.1 will be out later this year, but will be available for developers and early adopters to try out today.