Microsoft on Wednesday morning announced the official release date for its Windows 8.1 update, which will arrive on Oct. 17 at 4 a.m. PDT. Windows 8.1 will release as a free update for Windows 8 users through the Windows Store and will also release on retail shelves and new devices starting on Oct. 18.

Microsoft said that Windows 8.1 “continues the vision” the company began with Windows 8, which was initially released in August but saw its general release date arrive on Oct. 26, 2012. Unfortunately for Microsoft, many critics lambasted Windows 8 for its restricted Windows Store and its touch-centric features that appeared to alienate Microsoft’s traditional desktop users, especially with its flagship hardware, the Microsoft Surface RT tablet, which was underwhelming in its own right from a sales, PR and critical perspective. The release date of Windows 8.1 may coincide with a new Surface tablet, as Microsoft has recently dropped the prices of its Surface RT and Surface Pro devices.

While the release of Windows 8 was somewhat a disaster between its hardware and software faults, Microsoft remains extremely confident about the release of Windows 8.1, originally acknowledged in March as “Windows Blue.” Though its release date won’t arrive until October, users can still download a full preview of Windows 8.1 right now.

The release of Windows 8.1 will introduce many changes to the new Windows 8 operating system, including Microsoft’s signature Start button, new lifestyle and productivity apps, a file manager integrated into its cloud-based SkyDrive app, Internet Explorer 11, an updated security system and Windows Store 2.0, which features a better layout and allows users to have apps automatically updated. Windows 8.1 will also release with a much-improved snap view feature, which allows users to see multiple apps on the screen at once.

“You can resize apps to any size you want, share the screen between two apps, or have up to four apps on screen,” Microsoft said on its Windows blog. “If you have multiple displays connected, you can have different Windows Store apps running on all the displays at the same time and the Start Screen can stay open on one monitor. This makes multi-tasking even easier.”

The release of Windows 8.1 will also add new support for NFC printing, Wi-Fi Direct printing, and even native APIs for 3D printing, as well as device encryption for all editions of Windows 8.

The release date of Windows 8.1 will arrive just before the first year anniversary of Windows 8, and Microsoft intends on advertising many of its new Windows 8 devices prior to the Windows 8.1 release date, including the Microsoft Surface, the Lenovo Yoga 11s, the Dell XPS 18 and the Acer Iconia W3. Microsoft is also pushing its Windows Chip-In program, which is a crowd-funding program to help students and parents purchase new Windows devices for school.

What do you think of Windows 8.1? Do you think it will solve many of  the issues Microsoft had with Windows 8 and its Surface tablets? Have you previewed Windows 8.1 or will you download the update upon its general release date on Oct. 17? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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