Microsoft has announced that Windows 8.1 will begin rolling out worldwide on 17 October as a free update for users running Windows 8. It will also hit retail outlets and be available on new device hardware at the same time.
Windows 8.1 is the first update to Microsoft's Windows 8 platform, and is being delivered to customers less than a year after the original version was officially launched.
The date was disclosed in a post on the Windows blog by senior marketing communications manager Brandon LeBlanc, who announced that Windows 8.1 will begin rolling out at 12am on 18 October in New Zealand, which equates to 12pm on 17 October in the UK.
The update adds a number of new features, including Internet Explorer 11, but mostly focuses on tweaks to the user interface, including a more customisable Start screen and the ability to boot straight to the legacy desktop environment if required.
It also makes greater use of SkyDrive to enable users to "roam" their data, and have to access to the same files and settings across any Windows 8.1 device they sign into.
A preview release of Windows 8.1 was made available at the end of June, but Microsoft has yet to announce the release to manufacturing (RTM) of the code, which is when the software is finalised and ready to deliver to hardware vendors.
Microsoft said that if customers opt to buy a Windows 8 device today, they will be able to upgrade for free to the new features and improvements in Windows 8.1 in October.
The Windows 8.1 update is being styled by many industry observers as a critical release for Microsoft, which has been blamed by some vendors for a failure to turn around the lacklustre sales of PCs and Windows tablets since the launch of Windows 8.
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