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At Build 2013, Microsoft unveils Windows 8.1 (complete with Start button)

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Jeff Chiu/AP

(Read caption) Microsoft previewed Windows 8.1, an update to its flagship operating system, at the Build developers conference this week. Here, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer addresses the crowd at the conference.

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With Windows 8, Microsoft’s aim was to make an operating system that offered more or less the same experience on computers, tablets, and hybrid devices alike -- but many early adopters found the software confusing, since it contained features and design cues that didn’t make sense on all devices. With Windows 8.1, the first major update to the OS, Microsoft is bringing back familiar features that had originally been discarded, while doubling down on the idea that the OS can work equally well on a computer or a tablet.

At the Microsoft Build developer conference this week, chief executive Steve Ballmer said Windows 8.1 is a way for the company to “reblend the desktop and modern experience,” and that the company is responding to many computer users who wanted the new software to incorporate more familiar elements.

The venerable Start button is the most noticeable inclusion in Windows 8.1 -- it doesn’t behave the same way it did in previous versions of Windows, but it does allow users to access the Control Panel and Task Manager, and restart or shut down the device. Windows 8.1 can also boot straight to the desktop, bypassing the Modern UI tiles that make up a big part of the interface. (Those tiles are great if you’re using a touchscreen, but many users complained that they don’t make sense with a keyboard and mouse.)

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