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Windows Phone 8.1 now available to developers

You can now install the latest version of Microsoft's mobile OS -- but you'll need a developer's account to snag it.

Windows Phone 8.1 stars Cortana as the new voice assistant. James Martin/CNET

Those of you curious about Windows Phone 8.1 can now take it for a spin, assuming you meet the right prerequisites.

The new 8.1 version is available as of Monday through the Windows Phone Preview for Developers program. The goal of the program is to give developers an early opportunity to test their Windows Phone apps against the latest edition.

As such, think twice before you install this early preview of Windows Phone 8.1 on your main phone. The update actually voids your device's warranty. Instead, you'd want to set it up on an unlocked phone that you use for app testing. A Microsoft Web page explains how you can register your Windows Phone handset for development purposes.

To access Windows Phone 8.1, you'll need to register for an app developer account, which will cost you $19 a year as an individual or $99 a year as a company. Alternatively, you could first register as a developer at Microsoft's App Studio page where you can create your own project.

The Windows Phone Preview for Developers page then gives you access to pre-release updates for Microsoft's mobile OS.

Demoed at Microsoft's Build conference earlier this month, Windows Phone 8.1 offers several new features over its predecessor, including a new Start screen, an Action Center notification drawer, and a new voice assistant known as Cortana. The OS will roll out to existing Windows Phone handsets over the next few months. New devices with 8.1 will start to launch later this month.