Microsoft released Windows Phone 8.1 today, and contrary to its label of "Windows Phone Preview for Developers," anyone can upgrade their current Windows Phone 8-powered handset.
Registered Windows Phone developers who have previously opted into previews -- Microsoft launched the early-look program last October -- can immediately download the preview onto their smartphones. But Microsoft has set a very low bar for entry to its developers program, making it easy for anyone to obtain the pre-release operating system.
Register as a Windows Phone developer....
For $19 annually, anyone can register as a developer with publishing privileges on the Windows Phone Store, the official distribution mart for all Windows Phone apps. A Microsoft Account and valid credit card are required.
The registration process begins on this page of Microsoft's website.
....Or register at the App Studio
The App Studio, launched in August 2013, targets non-developers who want to create simplistic Windows Phone apps for their own use.
Although there's no fee for registering as an App Studio developer, Microsoft considers those people full-fledged developers for accessing the Windows Phone 8.1 preview.
Registration as an App Studio developer starts here. At least one project must be associated with the Microsoft Account.
[Note: At mid-day Monday, the App Studio seemed overloaded, and returned the message, "There's a temporary problem with the service. Please try again," several times before Computerworld was able to log on.]
Download the Preview for Developers app
Registered developers must first download, then run, the Preview for Developers app, a free app available here on the Windows Phone Store.
By signing into the app with the same Microsoft Account credentials used to create a developer account, the smartphone will be able to detect the 8.1 preview.
Grab the preview
In the Apps List, tap "Settings," then "Phone Update" and finally tap the "Check for Updates" button.
The update will begin downloading to the phone
Caveats, or previewer beware
Microsoft spells out a long page of legalese related to the Windows Phone Preview for Developers, but the important points number just three:
1. Depending on the carrier's and handset maker's warranty policies, installing the Windows Phone 8.1 preview may void said warranty.
2. Only Microsoft-made bits are included in the preview: Carrier and OEM changes are not included.
3. Once on the preview, there's no going back. The preview can be upgraded to the final Windows Phone 8.1 code, however, at which point the handset will be indistinguishable from one that never had the preview, thereby putting the handset back under warranty.
Windows Phone 8.1 will appear on new handsets later this month and in early May, Microsoft officials said at the Build developers conference two weeks ago. Existing Windows Phone 8 users will have to wait on their carriers and handset makers to approve 8.1, which will take place, Microsoft has said, over the next several months.
Support available here
Microsoft pointed people to this online support forum if they encountered problems installing the preview.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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This story, "How to get Windows Phone 8.1 today" was originally published by Computerworld.