Just in case there was ever any doubt, Microsoft has officially confirmed the existence of Windows Blue - the free upgrade to Windows 8 that marks the start of an Apple-style annual release cycle - with a plan to launch the software before the end of the year.
The first hint that Microsoft was working on Windows Blue came courtesy of a rapidly-deleted job listing
in February, asking for a software development engineer to work on testing the Windows Blue experience - including revisions to the Start Screen, a tile-based replacement for the classic Start Menu which borrows heavily from the company's Metro UI first developer for Windows Phone. Later that month, sources would point to a August launch for Windows Blue
while claiming it would mark a move to an OS X-like annual release cycle for the desktop operating system - the first time in Microsoft's history it has planned such a rapid cycle for a flagship software product.
A DVD ISO of the pre-release Windows Blue
software leaked in March, providing a first glimpse of what would change: while visually similar to Windows 8, aside from minor tweaks like an increase to the number of accent colours available from the personalisation menu and a Start Screen that makes better use of high resolution displays, the leaked Windows Blue included a full point-revision to the Windows kernel - something normally reserved for full edition releases, rather than Service Pack updates to existing Windows versions.
Since then, additional leaked ISOs have combined with rumours from anonymous sources to suggest that Microsoft is looking to use Windows Blue to address concerns with the tile-based Modern UI: in April code was discovered which could allow for Windows Blue-based systems to boot directly into the classic desktop mode
, bypassing the tile-based Start Screen altogether. Other rumours have hinted that Windows Blue many include something analogous to the Start Menu, for those who are truly struggling to adapt to the new user experience paradigm developed by Microsoft.
All the while, Microsoft has been refusing to confirm the existence of Windows Blue - until now. Speaking in a Q&A session
on the company's website, Microsoft's Tami Reller - chief marketing and financial officer - has finally pulled back the curtain to allow a tiny, tantalising glimpse of the next Windows release.
' Windows Blue is a codename for an update that will be available later this year, building on the bold vision set forward with Windows 8 to deliver the next generation of tablets and PCs,
' claimed Reller. 'It will deliver the latest new innovations across an increasingly broad array of form factors of all sizes, display, battery life and performance, while creating new opportunities for our ecosystem. It will provide more options for businesses, and give consumers more options for work and play.
For those who dislike the new user experience introduced in Windows 8, there may be some good news: 'The Windows Blue update is also an opportunity for us to respond to the customer feedback that we’ve been closely listening to since the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT. From a company-wide perspective, Windows Blue is part of a broader effort to advance our devices and services for Microsoft.
' While that's far from a promise to bring back the Start Menu, if Microsoft is truly listening to feedback it can't help but have heard customer demands for at least the option to return to a more Windows 7-like experience without the need to install unsupported third-party packages.
Reller also revealed that, despite concerns regarding its user experience, Windows 8 sales are tracking those of Windows 7 quite nicely: like its predecessor, Windows 8 has sold 100 million licences in the first six months of availability - meaning rumours that the operating system was being ignored by buyers are untrue. Missing from Reller's figures, however, are the number of new systems bought with a Windows 8 licence - which counts as a sale in Microsoft's eyes - but then immediately downgraded to Windows 7, either by the manufacturer prior to shipping or by the owner after purchase.
Reller has not provided a timescale for the launch of Windows Blue, which is believed to be hitting the market under the name Windows 8.1, but we've seen nothing so far that suggests Microsoft will be missing the rumoured August launch.