It's back! Today at its Build conference, Microsoft announced that the company is returning the traditional start menu to Windows. The company is also adding the ability to run Windows Store apps in their own Windows. The updates will be available not in Windows 9, as previously rumored, but in a future update to Windows 8.1.
In a brief demo, Microsoft's VP of operating systems showed a desktop screen with Windows Store apps running in their own windows and a traditional Start Menu open on the desktop. However, the Start Menu also contained tiles for Windows Store apps.
In addition, Microsoft announced that a future build of Windows 8.1 will be available for free for device makers. As of right now, Windows tablets under 9 inches will get Windows 8 licenses for free.
The company did not say when the future Windows 8.1 update would be available or when the free version for system builders would launch. However, bringing back the Start Menu and allowing you to run Windows Store (aka Modern) apps on the desktop is a welcome change that users have wanted since Windows 8 launched in 2012.
Current third-party utilities such as Stardock's ModernMix and Start8 allow you to get both features today, but such functionality always works better when it's built into the OS.
It remains unclear who will benefit from the free versions of Windows 8.1. Will the new $0 licensing fee make small tablets cheaper or just provide higher profit margins for the likes of Lenovo, HP and Dell? Stay tuned.