Microsoft has put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1, and the software’s ready to hit the streets. But it won’t actually do that for another month and a half.
What Microsoft is doing right now is releasing Windows 8.1 to its hardware partners, which means that on October 18th you’ll be able to buy a new PC with the software pre-installed. You’ll be able to download the free updated to Windows 8 or purchase a new copy from the internet starting a day earlier, on October 17th, 2013.
In the past, Microsoft has typically made new versions of Windows available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers as soon as it they were released to manufacturing. That’s not happening this time — subscribers to those Microsoft programs will get access at the same time as everyone else on October 18th.
While Windows 8.1 is already starting to go out to hardware partners, The Verge reports that the company expects to continue releasing updates with bug fixes and new features in the coming weeks, which suggests that the RTM release may not really be the final version of Windows 8.1.
But arguably there’s no such thing as a final version of an operating system these days. Developers constantly push out minor updates to address bugs and security flaws over the life cycle of an operating system like Windows.
Windows 8.1 is an unusual product from Microsoft. It’s launch comes just about a year after the introduction of Windows 8. In the past the company has taken 2-3 years, or sometimes much longer to release a new operating system.
Of course, Windows 8.1 is a relatively minor update. It still looks and works a lot like Windows 8 and supports both apps that run in traditional desktop mode and the new “Modern” user interface.
Some notable changes include the return of the Start Button (but not the actual Start Menu — the button just brings up the Start Screen), better support for tablets and other devices with displays smaller than 10 inches, support for more than 2 Modern apps running on the same screen, improved multi-display support, and the inclusion of Skype.