Microsoft has confirmed that it will be releasing Windows 8.1 to its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners in August, with a retail release planned 'just in time for the holidays.'
Microsoft's Tami Reller, speaking at the company's annual Worldwide Partner Conference late last night, announced that Windows 8.1 will reach Release to Manufacturing (RTM) status in late August. Confirmed in a later blog post
by Brandon LeBlanc, the RTM version will provide OEMs the ability to prepare Windows 8.1 devices for release in the following months - but, thus far, has not come with a firm retail launch date from Microsoft, suggesting the company is hedging its bets on how long it will take its customers to adapt to the new OS.
Windows 8.1 is near-unique in the company's history of operating system releases, in that it will be released not only as OEM and retail products but also as a free upgrade for all Windows 8 owners. While some have compared it to Windows 8 Service Pack 1 - or, more unkindly, evidence that Windows 8 was released too early and still in near-beta status - it more importantly marks Microsoft's desire to become more agile in its release cycle to better compete with the annual refreshes from its rival Apple.
Reller also announced a new service from Microsoft, due to launch in January next year, dubbed the User Experience Design Competency. Designed to help software partners train their designers in the Microsoft Design Language
- the company's standard for apps to be sold in the Windows Store - the training will help ensure a coherent user experience for third-party software sold through the store.
Reller's final announcement was TouchWins
, a channel incentive designed to reward the company's most loyal partners. Certain devices, Reller explained, will be chosen as 'Featured,' and resellers and distributors will receive incentives - cash bungs, typically - for flogging the kit-du-jour to their customers. To qualify for 'Featured' status, devices will need to run Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8.1 Pro - and, given the latter is a free upgrade for the former, there's little practical difference from a consumer point of view - and feature a touch screen either in place of, or in addition to, a traditional keyboard and mouse.
Outspoken Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer also made an appearance at the event, to claim that Windows 8.1 represents evidence that the company has listened to feedback from its customers. 'I think we did a heck of a good job on Windows 8,
' Ballmer claimed. 'Windows 8 was nothing short of the most remarkable replatforming of Windows basically since 1995.
'[i]We're going to spend a lot of time today also talking about Windows 8.1, because we listened and we learned, and as good as Windows 8 is I would just encourage you to really take a look at Windows 8.1,
' Ballmer implored attendees at the event. 'It really speaks to the feedback that we've gotten. It builds on the exciting new user interface, the embrace of new platforms, the new programming model - but we've also addressed the feedback that we've gotten from people on how it works in the enterprise, what we need for serious desktop users, and I think you'll be incredibly impressed.
The company's focus on Windows 8.1 comes ahead of a rumoured executive reshuffle
at the company, scheduled to be announced as early as this Thursday.