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  (Source: Microsoft)
Is this the start button you're looking for?

Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) "Release Preview" builds of the upcoming free Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 upgrades aired today.  Windows 8.1 represents Microsoft's bid to revive slumping personal computer sales and make up for the misses of Windows 8, which led some to pan the ambitious user interface redesign.

The changes in the Release Preview are pretty much along the lines of what was previously shown in media previews:
  • "Start Button", which switches you to the "Modern UI" Home Page
     
  • Color theme customizations
     
  • Large and Tiny Live Tiles
     
  • Batch Live Tile operations (move, etc.)
     
  • Improved knowledge-enabled global, unified search
     
  • Side-by-side resizable app panes
     
  • Improved Windows Store
     
  • Improved SkyDrive support
     
  • Camera UI and photo slideshow on lock screen


The first change is the most notable -- and probably the most controversial.

After initially saying that customers no longer were using the Start Button and thus it was gone for good, Microsoft took note of the noisy outcry surrounding this topic and changed its mind, allowing the Start Button to make a comeback in Windows 8.1.  

...well, sort of.  Instead of the traditional Start Button, which pops up a menu of apps (on the same screen) in Desktop Mode, the new "Start Button" yanks you out of Desktop Mode and drops you onto your "Modern UI" (aka "Metro") Home Page.

It's clear that this won't be the Start Button many Windows traditionalists were hoping for.  But it does allow faster transitions to the Modern UI, for better or worse.

Windows 8.1 Preview

Microsoft has a full guide on the other new features here, and a Faq on Windows 8.1 Preview here.  Microsoft warns that some systems with 32-bit Intel Corp. (INTC) Atom processors will need to update their drivers before running Windows 8.1.

To get the update itself, go to the Preview page, which will install the necessary updates, then take you to a download link in Windows Store for the main installer.

Microsoft's annual BUILD Conference for developers is kicking off today and runs through June 28.

Sources: Microsoft [download link], [YouTube], [Blog]





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