Earlier this year, IDC cited weak Windows 8 adoption as one of the driving factors behind the biggest PC sales slump in nearly two decades. Microsoft, however, hopes to change that with its Windows 8.1 update, which begins officially rolling out to consumers today.
The enhanced OS comes about one year after the company initially launched Windows 8 last October, and Microsoft has made some welcome improvements to the software. Among the most noticeable new features are the introduction of a universal search function known as Bing Smart Search and a Start button that directs users to the Windows 8 home screen.
Microsoft has stepped up its app game with new additions to Windows 8.1, including Bing Food & Drink and Xbox Video. Third-party developers are also updating their wares for Windows 8.1, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Evernote and (new to Windows 8) Facebook.
The timing of Windows 8.1’s launch also lines up with new hardware announcements from Microsoft’s OEM partners. Lenovo, Dell, and HP have all unveiled new laptops, tablets and hybrids within the last several weeks, including the Lenovo Miix 2, Dell XPS 11 and HP Spectre 13 X2. Microsoft also unveiled its Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 earlier this month just in time for Windows 8.1’s release to the general public.
Those already running Windows 8 can head over to the Windows Store to download and install Windows 8.1 for free. Windows 7 users can choose to pay $120 to order the Windows 8.1 DVD or purchase the digital download. Earlier this month Microsoft said that users currently running on older versions of Windows such as XP or Vista would need to upgrade to Windows 8 before installing Windows 8.1
In addition to being available as a free download, Windows 8.1 will be available on a DVD and preloaded on new devices beginning Oct. 18.