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BUILD 2013: Microsoft's developer conference kicks off tomorrow

Tomorrow, BUILD kicks off in San Francisco, Microsoft's first major developer conference in the city since 1997. It will be held at the Moscone Center where, just a couple of weeks ago, Apple held its Worldwide Developer Conference and took the covers off the latest update to its mobile operating system, iOS 7

At BUILD, a comprehensive OS update will also take centre-stage, with Microsoft revealing more about its long-awaited – and much needed – Windows 8.1 release. We got our first official look at it a few weeks ago, and what we've seen so far is certainly encouraging; while many will simply be relieved to see the return of the Start button, Windows 8.1 offers much more than that.

There's better search and cloud integration, an overhauled Windows Store experience, enhanced multi-monitor support and more flexible Snap View options, more diverse customisation options, and a range of security enhancements under the hood. We're expecting to hear plenty more about the consumer and business features in the updated OS, and we're also looking forward to the release of the Windows 8.1 Public Preview, which should be made available for download tomorrow. 

But BUILD is primarily a developer event, and Microsoft will be talking extensively about what the changes in Windows 8.1 will mean for its vast global developer community. New APIs and interface enhancements will greatly expand the capabilities of third-party software on the platform, and numerous sessions and workshops throughout the event will help developers come to grips with the changes that are on the way. 

Another big part of the developer story that we're hoping to hear more on is Xbox One. At the announcement of its new console, Microsoft talked up the inclusion of the Windows 8 kernel, leading to much speculation about the possibilities for third-party developers to create apps and games for the platform, and port titles from other Windows and even non-Windows operating systems, with ease. We'll have to wait and see just what Microsoft has planned in that regard. 

We're also keen to hear more about Microsoft's plans for helping devs with the next-generation version of Kinect. While the company previously opened up development of Kinect for Windows, its impact has been relatively limited, although it has given rise to extraordinary innovation and creativity among developers searching for new and ingenious ways to harness the technology. Microsoft says that the new Kinect is coming to Windows, and we hope to hear more about how Microsoft plans to equip developers with the tools needed to create even more exciting uses for Kinect with the new version of the hardware. 

Sadly, one area where we're not expecting to hear much is Windows Phone. Microsoft is preparing to roll out its next Windows Phone update, General Distribution Release 2, over the next couple of months; the new Nokia Lumia 925 is already being delivered to customers with that update pre-installed. But GDR2 brings a relatively modest set of enhancements to the OS, with no significant changes for developers to tackle. 

Later this year, Microsoft aims to deliver GDR3, which will bring more substantial updates, including changes that will affect how developers create software for the platform. GDR3 is tipped to bring platform support for quad-core processors and higher-resolution 1080p displays, which will affect the performance and display of apps on newer hardware. However, with that update still around 4-5 months away, we're not expecting to hear anything about it at BUILD, nor indeed about the next major overhaul for Windows Phone, part of the "Blue" wave of updates. That update, which we believe will be branded Windows Phone 8.1, is now not expected to arrive until early 2014, making it unlikely that we'll hear anything about it at this year's BUILD. 

It's also possible that we could see the launch of a new smaller Surface tablet at BUILD – although Microsoft may choose to announce that new hardware at a separate event. 

With everything getting underway tomorrow, at least there's not long to wait until we find out! The day 1 keynote event – at which we're expecting to hear the biggest announcements on Windows 8.1 – begins tomorrow at 9 a.m. local time.

Top three images via Microsoft

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