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Microsoft to release Windows 8.1 update on April 8

At its annual Build confab, Microsoft wants to make it clear that the update's mission is to welcome frustrated mouse and keyboard users back to Windows 8.1.

Josh Miller/CNET

Microsoft announced that its first update to Windows 8.1 will roll out to users on April 8 for free. It will be available to all current 8.1 users.

Onstage at the company's annual Build conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Windows Phone Vice President Joe Belfiore laid out the new features available and made it clear that the update's mission is to welcome frustrated mouse and keyboard users back to Windows 8.1.

The presentation was more or less a recap of what Belfiore said at Mobile World Congress in late February of this year, when Microsoft confirmed the update that many had been clamoring for when the initial 8.1 release in October of last year failed to address users' concerns over the dominance of touch.

The update will bring functionality for traditional peripherals, along with updates to the user interface of 8.1 to maximize that functionality. It's all with the hope that the combined control for different modes of use and different device types doesn't diminish the touch focus Microsoft is aggressively pushing to try to unify its tablet and PC lines.

The update will allow the OS to identify the device it is being used on and tailor the experience accordingly. If you're on tablet, 8.1 will launch into "Metro" mode. If you're on a PC, it will now launch straight to desktop.

Also in the 8.1 update, the taskbar makes its mighty return. New Windows Store apps can now work with the feature -- which now automatically pulls up in Metro apps -- and the taskbar can now switch between modern and legacy Windows apps. The Store itself was also redesigned to be friendlier for mouse and keyboard users. The Store is pre-pinned to the taskbar to push discoverability.

The interface will now also include mouse-specific features like right clicking for Start and to close apps with an immediate drop-down menu. Metro apps can also now be minimized like traditional Windows apps.

Microsoft also announced today that it will be making Windows free for tablets and phones with a screen less than 9 inches. By making the OS free, manufacturers may be more willing to make Windows devices, which could in turn increase market share. Onstage, OS chief Terry Myerson said the change is all about driving adoption of Windows apps.

Windows 8.1 retails for $119.99 (€87.20 / £72.14), while Windows 8.1 Pro goes for $199.99 (€145.34 / £120.24).

Read more about the announcement on CNET's live blog.

Update, 12:26 p.m. PT: Added more details from Microsoft's keynote.