Past rumors purport that Windows Blue and Windows 8.1 may actually be one and the same. At a conference today, Microsoft CFO Tami Reller validated those rumors, stating that Windows 8.1 is not only Blue, but 8.1 is on track for a summer preview release and will be freely available later this year.

The long-rumored Windows Blue project has been steeped in mystery; however, leaks from industry sources and job postings have continued to feed the rumor mill. As it turns out, a number of these rumors are reasonably correct: a preview release due this summer, Blue will be a free but major update for Windows 8 and will arrive in the second-half of 2013 launch.

"It will be easy to get from the Windows Start Screen," Reller told attendees. This is likely in reference to the rumored return of the start button -- just one change expected to be delivered by Windows 8.1. 

Acer chairman J.T. Wang expressed his belief that Windows 8.1 means Microsoft has finally evolved to acknowledge "how people on Earth think," suggesting the company had lost touch with its users (and perhaps its humanity).

Some questions regarding Blue remain though; in particular, what possible role will it play in other areas of Microsoft's ecosystem?

Although this latest bit of Windows 8.1 news is Microsoft's first official acknowledgement of Blue – will it be as expansive as rumors have indicated? Industry sources have suggested Blue is really an umbrella project aimed at improving usability and uniformity across various Microsoft service and products, not the least of which include Windows Phone, Office and Could we see other service-pack-like updates for those products or was Blue just Windows 8.1 all along?