The first major update to Microsoft's flagship Windows 8 operating system will be officially released Oct. 17, the company announced. Dubbed Windows 8.1, the free update will arrive "just before Windows 8 celebrates its 1-year anniversary," noted Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc in an Aug 14 blog post.
LeBlanc revealed that "starting at 12 a.m. on Oct. 18 in New Zealand (that's 4 a.m., Oct. 17 in Redmond), Windows 8.1 will begin rolling out worldwide as a free update for consumers on Windows 8 through the Windows Store." He also hinted that the launch is the precursor to a coordinated product rollout.
"Windows 8.1 will also be available at retail and on new devices starting on Oct. 18 by market," he wrote. Microsoft and several of its OEM partners are widely expected to debut new Windows 8 systems, including small tablets.
However, current-generation tablets like Microsoft's own Surface and convertibles like Lenovo's Yoga 11S will also benefit from upgrades, noted LeBlanc. "If you buy a Windows 8 device today, you can look forward to the new features and improvements from Windows 8.1 in October."
Available now as a public preview for enterprise users and consumers, Windows 8.1 has several enhancements, including upgraded versions of the operating system's built-in apps. It also reverses, to a degree, some of the most controversial changes Microsoft ushered in with the Windows 8 launch.
Windows 8.1 gives users the option to boot directly to the desktop view, instead of the touch-optimized, Windows Phone-like Live Tile interface. Also making a reappearance is the Start button, which was ditched by the software maker in favor of the search charm and hot corners.
The OS update features tighter integration with Microsoft's soon-to-be-renamed cloud storage service, SkyDrive. Internet Explorer 11, expanded personalization options and a streamlined Windows Store app marketplace help round out the list of improvements.
For Microsoft, Windows 8.1 is also a bold bet on a new market: 3D printing.
The company announced in late June that Windows 8.1 would include 3D printer and file format support. "Making a 3D object on your PC will be as easy as writing a document in Word and sending it to print. Just as desktop publishing transformed how we write, we think desktop manufacturing will transform how we create," said Shanen Boettcher, general manager of Microsoft's Startup Business Group in a June 26 blog post.
In a bid to spur enterprise adoption, Windows 8.1 Enterprise adds business-centric capabilities, including virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) support and the company's VPN-bypassing DirectAccess technology. On the BYOD front, it will conform to Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA-DM) standards and offer device lockdown, encryption and selective wipe capabilities that allow organizations to nuke corporate data on remote devices without affecting personal data.