Microsoft unveils Windows/WP updates, universal apps

|About: Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)|By:, SA News Editor

As rumored, an update to Windows 8.1 (MSFT -0.5%), revealed at Microsoft's Build conference, provides a slew of UI changes aimed at keyboard/mouse users: Power and search buttons have been added to the Metro interface, right-clicking on Metro tiles brings up pop-up menus, and Metro apps can be added to the desktop-mode taskbar. But there's still no taskbar for Metro.

Windows Phone 8.1, meanwhile, brings with it Cortana, a personal assistant service meant to be Microsoft's response to Google Now/Siri. The OS update also includes an improved notification center (addresses a common user complaint) and support for custom lockscreens.

Hoping to narrow the big leads iOS and Android have in touch app developer support, Microsoft is also announcing an update for its popular Visual Studio platform that allows developers to create (with some minor tweaking) "universal" apps that can run on PCs, phones, tablets, and the Xbox One. Users will be able to download an app for one device through the Windows Store, and immediately have it be available for others.

A week after launching Office iPad apps, Microsoft is previewing its anticipated touch-friendly Windows Office apps. "We’ve still got some work to do before we ship these," says VP Kurt Koenigsbauer. (live blog)