Microsoft has officially rolled out preorders for Windows 8.1 – the Windows 8 update that’s designed to address user complaints and make the operating system more intuitive. Windows 8.1 is set for widespread release on Oct. 18, marking about one year since Windows 8 launched in 2012.
Although Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade for Windows 8 users, those still running on Windows 7 can choose to pay $120 to order the Windows 8.1 DVD or digital download. Those running on Windows Vista or XP, however, will have to upgrade to Windows 8 before installing the Windows 8.1 update. The software maker will automatically update existing Windows 8 computers to 8.1 on Oct. 17 through the Windows Store.
The Windows 8.1 launch coincides with new hardware from Microsoft and its partners. Just last week the Redmond, Wash.-based company revealed its second-generation Surface and Surface Pro tablets. Nokia is also expected to debut a Windows 8.1 RT Lumia tablet at the end of the month, although this hasn’t been confirmed. Last month HP unveiled a new lineup of notebooks and hybrids that will come with 8.1 out of the box.
Unveiled in June, Windows 8.1 will bring multitasking improvements as well as tweaks to the user interface. These features include camera access from the lock screen and a new universal search engine that communicates with Bing and Wikipedia. By popular demand Microsoft is also bringing back the Start button — sort of. The new Windows 8.1 Start button will bring users to the Windows 8 Start screen, but doesn’t come with the menu Windows users are so familiar with.
We’re also hearing whispers that a Windows Phone 8.1 update could be next, but Microsoft has yet to make any announcements.