Today's Tech: Microsoft sneaks peek at Start button's return to Windows 8.1 and gets Telefonica to promote Windows Phone 8

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has promised tighter product release cycles going forward as he unveiled a preview version of the first major Windows 8 update, as well as other new Microsoft products, at the company's Build developer conference. Microsoft's Windows 8.1 update addresses some of the complaints generated by last year's much ballyhooed but critically panned Windows 8 release. "We're bringing back the Start button," Ballmer said to applause from the audience. "If you want to boot to the desktop, you can boot to the desktop." Windows 8 was criticised by many for its radical departure from the traditional Windows interface. Microsoft, it seems, heard those complaints and acted on them. Ballmer also admitted that Windows 8, though celebrated by Redmond for its optimisation for touch-based interfaces, didn't immediately result in as many touch-enabled PCs hitting the market as Microsoft had hoped. Finally, Microsoft is tying Bing into its software platforms more tightly, Ballmer said. The company is "opening up Bing as application development platform" with the release of Windows 8.1, he announced. For more detailed coverage of Ballmer's speech, follow the link above.

Oracle and Salesforce.com have buried the hatchet, with the two enterprise services leaders announcing a nine-year strategic partnership. An official announcement from Oracle confirmed that the two former sparring partners will co-operate across all three tiers of their cloud operations: applications, platform, and infrastructure. For its part, Salesforce.com will adopt Oracle software and hardware, standardising on Oracle's Linux OS distribution, Java middleware, and Exadata platform. Oracle will assimilate Salesforce.com into its Fusion human capital management app and other cloud-based financial software. The new partnership represents a significant turnaround for the relationship between the two firms. Back in 2010, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff slammed Oracle's technology as a "false cloud," with the mercurial Larry Ellison firing back in 2011 by dubbing the Salesforce cloud as a "roach motel." Oracle has also announced a tie-up with NetSuite aimed at further bolstering its cloud-based services for medium-sized enterprises. That alliance will specifically focus on integrating Oracle's HR software with NetSuite's enterprise planning services.

If you're a startup in need of some guidance, Microsoft might be able to help. The software giant has launched a new global effort, dubbed Microsoft Ventures, aimed at providing support to startups through "mentorship, technology guidance, seed funding, joint selling opportunities, and other benefits," Rahul Sood, general manager of Microsoft startups, wrote in a blog post. The company already offers resources to budding businesses through its accelerators; the Bing Fund seed investment initiative; and BizSpark programme, which offers development tools, as well as access to investors, mentors, and a community of peers. With Ventures, these various efforts will now fall under one umbrella to make things as easy as possible for entrepreneurs. The initiative will consist of three parts — a community programme offering early-stage startups access to technology and resources, a three- to six-month accelerator programme, and an expanded seed fund initiative.

Spanish carrier Telefónica is teaming up with Microsoft to make a big push for the company's Windows Phone 8 platform in Europe and South America. For the next year, Telefónica has committed to an "enhanced marketing effort" in the UK, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, and Chile in order to boost sales of Windows Phone 8 devices. The move, according to Telefónica, is intended to break up "the current duopoly of Android and iOS, and provide customers with a more personal smartphone experience like Windows Phone offers." Ultimately, this will lead to more competition in the smartphone space, the firm said. Telefónica said it plans to talk up services like Office 365 and SharePoint to enterprise customers, as well as access to Skydrive and Xbox for consumers. The carrier also pledged to work with handset makers to ensure that their phones are available to those who want them.