It looks like Microsoft plans to launch its first major update to Windows 8, dubbed Windows 8.1, a year after the OS debuted in October. Microsoft hasn’t officially disclosed the dates and Windows 8.1 Preview is available now. But a new report suggests that an October release date for the final build of Windows 8.1 is in sight.
Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans have told The Verge and ZDNet that the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) edition will debut as early as this month, but the final build for consumers won’t roll out until October. This update will reportedly coincide with new devices from Microsoft’s partners, including 7- and 8-inch gadgets. Microsoft began to shift its emphasis toward smaller slates earlier this summer at Computex in Taiwan when it announced that 7- and 8-inch devices running Windows 8 and Windows RT will get its Office suite for free.
Windows 8.1 will come with a slew of multitasking improvements that the company says is aimed at addressing consumer feedback. The update includes features such as camera access from the lock screen, an improved universal search engine and some SkyDrive enhancements.
The new update will also bring features aimed at getting users more acquainted with the gesture-centric OS. Earlier this week the 9471 build of Windows 8.1, which is said to be a test version of the RTM edition that will hit PC makers later this month, leaked online revealing some of these usability changes. For example, the leaked build features a new row of three dots that pull up the application bar with more settings options in Windows 8 built-in apps such as People, Mail and Calendar.
Microsoft has also added tips within these bundled apps that instruct users to swipe to access the Charms menu, which wasn’t available in the Preview version of Windows 8.1 that was unveiled earlier this summer. The new Help+Tips app provides information about navigating the Windows OS that includes video tutorials for performing basic functions. Other additions that have surfaced in this leaked build include parallax scrolling wallpapers for the Start screen and an updated Mail app that comes with a new sidebar for quick access to categories.
It’s no secret that the PC industry hasn’t been doing so well lately, and earlier this year the IDC blamed part of that slump on Windows 8. The new usability features that are expected to come with the final build of Windows 8.1 show that Microsoft is attempting to make the OS more intuitive to users.