Two months after Microsoft revealed the nitty-gritty details of Windows 8.1, the company has announced that the update has been officially released to its hardware partners. Consumers, however, will have to wait for the commercial launch on Oct. 18.
Windows 8.1 marks the first major update to Microsoft’s latest operating system since it launched in October 2012. Enhancements that will come with the free update include camera access from the lock screen, a new universal search engine that communicates with Bing and Wikipedia, and multitasking improvements among other features. Microsoft is also re-introducing the Start button, although it brings users to the Start screen and doesn’t include the traditional Start menu.
Microsoft notes that we’ll see new Windows 8 tablets and 2-in-1s over the next several months leading up to the launch of Windows 8.1. This aligns with previous reports that indicated the Windows 8.1 release date would coincide with new 7- and 8-inch devices from Microsoft’s partners.
Until this point, Windows 8 touch screen devices have done little to revitalize interest in the PCs market, as the IDC reports. In fact, the research firm cited Windows 8 as one of the reasons behind the biggest PC sales slump in nearly two decades. However, Microsoft is hoping to garner interest in its touch-optimized OS by focusing on more affordable smaller-sized tablets. Back in June the company announced that 7- and 8-inch Windows 8 and RT tablets will get its Office suite for free. But with Google’s refreshed Nexus 7 and Apple’s rumored Retina display iPad Mini, Microsoft will have to deliver if it wants to edge in on the 7-inch slate space.