If you’ve been holding your breath waiting for the long-rumored Windows 8 “Blue” update, you might be able to exhale soon. Microsoft still hasn’t officially broken down the new features in the update, but it does now have a name and a price: "Windows 8.1," and "free."

This update has been a hot topic of the rumor mill as customers rail against some of the changes Microsoft tried to force with Windows 8. A Windows Phone-esque Start Screen is great for a tablet or hybrid touch PC. But on a traditional desktop or laptop PC, operated with a mouse and keyboard? You know, the kind that still dominates Microsoft’s userbase? Not so much.

That’s why previous rumors have pointed to the update scaling back on the push towards touch. If you believe those whispers, then we’re looking at a Windows 8.1 that will give you back a start menu of some sort, and will let you boot straight into the desktop. In other words, a breath of fresh air for long-time Windows users.

An apology ... and a blame?

So today we have Microsoft’s Tami Reller telling us about the update that extends Microsoft’s vision, but also “addresses customer feedback.” Primo Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott might have
phrased it best, when he half-jokingly branded Blue as “an apology.”

In the same breath, though, Microsoft is still pushing for PC makers to make more devices with touchscreens. Do you get the sense that Redmond isn't completely owning up to the ho-hum reception to Windows 8?

Maybe it's a chicken-or-egg scenario, but – apart from the Surface Pro – customers haven't shown much interest in Windows-based tablets, touch laptops, and convertibles. If customers aren't asking for something, I'm not sure if making more of them is going to change that.

More details

The update – which will be for both Windows 8 and RT – is also expected to open the door to
smaller tablets. Will Windows-running
Nexus 7 and
iPad mini competitors be enough to lift Microsoft's mobile fortunes? This should be interesting.

Reller didn’t narrow down a release window for Blue, but a public preview will be dropping on June 26. And the free part, of course, only applies to owners of Windows 8. We’ll be hearing more from Microsoft on 8.1 in the coming weeks.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Paul Thurrott’s Windows SuperSite [1] [2]