Microsoft names Oct. 18 for Windows 8.1 launch

Free update to restart Windows after a slow first year

Microsoft today named Oct. 18 as the launch date for Windows 8.1, the update it hopes will be better received than the original, which debuted the year before.

"Starting at 12:00 a.m. on October 18 in New Zealand (that's 4:00 a.m. October 17 in Redmond, Wash.), Windows 8.1 will begin rolling out worldwide as a free update for consumers on Windows 8 through the Windows Store," said spokesman Brandon LeBlanc.

In the U.S., that means current Windows 8 users can tap the Windows Store on Oct. 17 for the update.

"Windows 8.1 will also be available at retail and on new devices starting on October 18 by market," LeBlanc added in a post to a Microsoft blog early Wednesday.

Previously, Microsoft had said only that it would wrap up work on Windows 8.1 late this month and produce what it calls an RTM, for "release to manufacturing," build. The company said it would launch the final version of the update this fall, but did not specify a date or even a month.

Windows 8.1's debut will come just a week shy of the one-year anniversary of Windows 8, which launched Oct. 25, 2012.

The October date was no surprise: The anniversary always appeared a tempting target to analysts and pundits.

This week, several prominent bloggers who focus on Microsoft, including ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, cited unnamed sources to say that Windows 8.1 would, in fact, debut in October.

What's still unclear is whether Microsoft will make Windows 8.1's RTM available to MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and TechNet subscribers before Oct. 18. Foley said her sources had said they would not. TechNet is a service aimed at IT professionals, while MSDN courts developers.

Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, thought it would be shortsighted of Microsoft to withhold Windows 8.1 from developers.

"That would be a mistake," said Miller in a Tuesday interview. "They have to get it out there as soon as possible."

Miller's point was well taken: Microsoft has been aggressively criticized for a lack of high-quality, in-demand apps in its Windows 8 and Windows RT app store, the sole distribution channel for touch-enabled apps designed for the new tile-based "Modern," née "Metro" user interface.

Last week, Nick Landry, a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) and product manager at Infragistics, a New Jersey maker of user interface (UI) development tools, tallied the number of Modern apps that corresponded to the 100 most popular on Apple's iOS, and found that Windows 8's coverage was just 54%.

Windows 8 app developers should get an early look at the Windows 8.1 final code, Miller said, so they could test their apps against the update and start work on revisions -- and new apps -- that take advantage of 8.1's new features and functionality.

Microsoft hopes that Windows 8.1 sparks interest in the radically-changed operating system. Users have shown little interest in Windows 8, which at the end of July accounted for about 6% of all copies of Windows used that month to go online, according to metrics firm Net Applications.

That compared poorly to Windows 7, which at the same point in its post-release timeline was powering 17.3% of all Windows systems.

Microsoft declined to comment on when Windows 8.1 would be available on MSDN and TechNet. However, a spokeswoman said that the company would "have more to share in the coming weeks."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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