Well, it's official. Windows Blue will be a free upgrade for folks running Windows 8. The news comes from the official Blogging Windows site, which also confirms that the updated OS will be dubbed Windows 8.1. You'll be able to get your hands on a public preview starting June 26 for both Win8 and Windows RT. The final version will be distributed through the Windows Store.
Unfortunately, the blog post doesn't mention whether the next version of Windows will bring back the old-school Start button or allow folks to boot directly to the desktop. According to the rumor mill, booting to desktop may be a done deal, but the Start button may only return as a shortcut to the current Start screen.
Whether booting to the desktop or resurrecting the Start button can lure people away from older versions of Windows remains to be seen. The free update will no doubt be applied by anyone already running Win8, and it'll come pre-loaded on scores of systems from PC makers. Win7 users may not see the need to upgrade, though. The other enhancements reportedly planned for Windows 8.1 are hardly killer apps, which is probably why the upgrade will be free.
Despite some of its annoying quirks, I've found Windows 8 to be a definite improvement over its predecessor. The new Task Manager is gorgeous, and the file transfer progress window is much improved. Although the Charms and hot corners can be annoying, I have to admit that the shortcuts in the lower-left corner save me time on a daily basis, especially when I'm configuring test systems. A free update to smooth out some of the rough edges sounds like just what the OS needs.