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Microsoft Windows Blue (or Windows 8.1) coming later this year

The upcoming Windows Blue, the first major update to Windows 8, will incorporate feedback from early adopters to build on the "bold vision" of the new OS, Microsoft said this week.

Windows Blue, expected later this year, "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," Tami Reller, Redmond's chief marketing officer and CFO, said in a Q&A posted to Microsoft's blog. "It will provide more options for businesses, and give consumers more options for work and play."

Word of Windows Blue, or Windows 8.1, first emerged in March with leaked screenshots that showed off some of the changes Microsoft had in mind for Windows 8. Redmond acknowledged Windows Blue a few days later, and promised more details at its June Build conference.

The leak suggested that Microsoft will be expanding the allowable size of tiles that one can place on Windows 8's Start Screen, and adding customisation options, among other things. Microsoft is also reportedly readying a Windows RT version of Windows Blue, and bringing back the start button.

"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," Reller said. "From a company-wide perspective, Windows Blue is part of a broader effort to advance our devices and services for Microsoft."

Windows 8 was released in October, but has yet to really pick up steam. According to April stats from Net Applications, Windows 8 is only in use on 3.82 per cent of global PCs; Windows 7 is top position with 44.72 per cent, followed by XP with 38.31 per cent. Even the much-maligned Windows Vista beats Windows 8 with 4.75 per cent of the market.

Reller, however, said Microsoft recently topped 100 million licenses sold for Windows 8, up from 60 million in January.

In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about the demise of the PC and the rise of the tablet. According to stats from The NPD Group, tablet shipments will jump 67 per cent this year alone to 256.5 million, while notebook PC shipments will likely drop 10 per cent over the next four years.

Reller addressed the switch in the blog post, arguing that "the PC is very much alive and increasingly mobile."

The definition of the PC is evolving, she continued. It's "part of a much broader device market of tablets and PCs. Windows 8 was built to fully participate in this broader and increasingly mobile device market. The PC part of the market is rapidly evolving to include new convertible devices and amazing new touch laptops, and all-in-ones."

Yesterday, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made headlines when he argued that iPad owners were "frustrated" with the Apple tablet because it does not include many of the features found in traditional PCs, like a keyboard and access to Microsoft Office.

Microsoft, meanwhile, announced that its SkyDrive cloud storage service now has more than 250 million users.