Windows 8 users should circle October 17 on the calendar. On that day at 7 a.m. ET / 4 a.m. PT Microsoft will release Windows 8.1 as a free upgrade or download through the Windows Store. A day later on October 18, the new version of the operating system will also be available at retail stores and on new devices.
"It's very exciting to be delivering Windows 8.1 to consumers just before Windows 8 celebrates its 1-year anniversary," Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc wrote in a blog post this morning. Microsoft released Windows 8, a radical redesign and vision for Windows, on Oct. 26, 2012.
However, since that release users have pointed out some shortcomings of the operating system, which was designed for tablets, laptops and desktops. Microsoft has said it has directly addressed that feedback in Windows 8.1 with the revival of the Start Button and a host of other new features and improvements.
Microsoft has added the Start Button back to the software, which was removed in Windows 8. Now in the left-hand corner of the traditional Desktop screen there will be a Start tip, as Microsoft calls it. When tapped it will bring you to the Start Screen -- the main home of the software, which is full of Microsoft's live tiles and apps. Microsoft has also made it easier to rearrange those tiles on that screen in the updated software.
Improvements have also been made to Internet Explorer 11. The new tabs along the top of the browser will always be visible -- no need to swipe down from the top of the screen to see them. A more complete look at the new Windows 8.1 features can be found here.
"We've learned a lot from customers in how they are using the product and have received a lot of feedback," Antoine Leblond, corporate vice president of Windows Program Management, said in a blog post earlier this year. "We've been watching, we've been listening."