'Windows 8.1' may ship in 2013, receive annual updates

New iterations of Windows usually take several years to develop and release to the public, but those days may soon be behind us.

According to a new report, Microsoft is already hard at work creating the next generation Windows operating system -- code-named "Blue" -- that will standardize the Windows desktop and Windows Phone platforms and move to Apple OS X-like yearly updates.

Even more intriguing? Windows Blue will reportedly be released in mid-2013.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley first heard whispers of Blue back in August, but The Verge just revealed in-depth details about the rumored release, citing "several sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans." The first iteration of Windows Blue will allegedly be released at low cost, or possibly even no cost, to convince people to make the switch to the platform, though the sources say you'll need to have a non-pirated version of Windows already installed on your PC in order to download and run Windows Blue.

Microsoft will probably stick with the Windows 8 name, although Windows Blue will have its own SDK and developers will be forced to work with that -- NOT the Windows 8 SDK -- once Blue is released. That's thanks to the company's quest to create a more seamless across experience across all Windows platforms, WP8 included. A unified base for Windows Blue could theoretically allow developers to more easily create a Metro app for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, though Windows 8 apps will still function on Windows Blue, the sources say. Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 already share a common core at the kernel level.

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Mixing more frequent, low-cost Apple-esque updates with a common SDK for Windows desktop and mobile devices could help Microsoft make larger strides in the mobile market, especially if it means an explosion of new apps for Windows Phone. The smartphone platform's mainstream adoption has been hampered partly by developer reluctance to make dedicated apps for the rarely used operating system.

Windows Blue, if the rumors are true, could also play dividends on the desktop side of things. Moving to a yearly release schedule would help the company stay on the cutting edge rather than waiting years to implement cool new features.

And hey, now that you mention it, the new Windows logo is already blue. Coincidence?