To coincide with its Build developers' conference opening keynote, Microsoft has made available its Windows 8.1 Preview edition for download for free.

Aimed at experienced Windows user, says Microsoft, the preview build of the Windows 8 update is available from and can be installed whenever you like, although you should be warned that, because there might be bugs, you should create a recovery drive first, in case you need to restore back to the last version of Windows.

The software was demonstrated during the keynote, with a number of new features highlighted - including the return of the Start button. Cheers and applause even rang out during the event when that was announced.

Microsoft has now made it entirely possible to ditch the Modern UI altogether, or at least create a Windows experience which means you never have to use it if you don't want to. It's now possible to boot straight to desktop and use that brand new Start button, meaning you get a more traditional Windows experience. Alternatively, you can create a custom startup screen which shows all your apps, so you can open things straight away.

Live tiles have changed, showing more information and being more adjustable in size. Then there is the ability to set your own backgrounds to the Modern UI start screen, so you can have your holiday photos behind live tiles.

The camera is accessible from the lock screen now and Windows 8 has been given an improved camera app, making it better to use with tablets. The same applies to the PC settings menu, which can be accessed much quicker from the modern UI, not requiring you to navigate via your desktop.

Microsoft has lifted limits on Windows 8's displays, meaning we should start seeing Retina display resolution screens on laptops. Those displays can also be shared across multiple screens, with Windows 8.1 even being able to push video straight to another screen via Miracast.

Bing features heavily and is built into nearly every app, most of which have been given a refresh. Office and Mail are the most significant of the redesign, although everything from the Calendar, to a clever cooking app, have been tweaked.

Xbox Music takes on a new appearance with Windows 8.1, although it is only slight. The app now makes it easier to access your music collection quickly, yet takes on the same stripped-back Modern UI look it had in previous versions.

Finally Microsoft has streamlined the way that apps update. No longer is there a need to navigate to the app store, with Windows 8.1 updating automatically. 

All in all, it's a great set of changes. The big talking point is obviously the slight u-turn on Modern UI. Those who consider themselves Windows power users will no doubt enjoy the customisation they can now give to their system, but it's good to see Microsoft still pursuing the Modern UI concept.

Rik Henderson

Our senior ed of news and features has been a tech and games journalist for more than 27 years, and has been with Pocket-lint for over five. Rik has edited a number of videogame magazines in the past, was deputy editor of Home Cinema Choice, and his TV career included stints as co-presenter of Channel 4's Gamesmaster and Sky One’s Games World.

Hunter Skipworth

The baby of the Lint team, Hunter has been a tech fan since he bought his first MiniDisc..and what a waste of money that was. He began writing about electronics at the age of 16 and hasn't stopped since. Nowadays he fulfils his mobile phone and gaming obsession whilst attempting to distract people from his bizarre name. Regular meetings with the Gladiators crew see Hunter often returning to work battered and bruised. Considers himself a music obsessive, was once the most highly decorated scout in the country. Fan of trousers.