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Microsoft to ship Windows 8.1 in 'late August'

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WPC 2013 The Windows 8.1 Preview is barely two weeks old, but Microsoft's Windows boss Tami Reller says the final version of the update will be ready to ship to manufacturers in just a few more weeks' time.

Speaking at Redmond's annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Houston, Texas on Monday, Reller announced that the RTM version of Windows 8.1 would be made available to Microsoft's OEM partners in "late August."

That release schedule should give OEMs plenty of opportunity to ready devices to ship with Windows 8.1 preinstalled in time for the holidays, Reller said.

Microsoft made the Windows 8.1 Preview available as a free download during its annual Build conference, which took place from June 26 to 28 in San Francisco. If the final version ships in August, the update will be no more than nine weeks old by the time it's released to manufacturing.

That's from the general public's perspective, at any rate. We've been hearing rumors of Windows "Blue" – Windows 8.1's old codename – since February, and Microsoft has likely been working on it for much longer.

Still, the short preview period is a bit unusual. Windows 8 itself spent two months as a Release Preview before Microsoft released it to manufacturing, but there was a Consumer Preview three months before that, and developers had hands-on access to the OS for more than a year before the final version shipped.

Obviously, Windows 8.1 isn't as dramatic an upgrade as the leap from Windows 7 to Windows 8. It's significant enough to warrant a version-number hike, however, and businesses will presumably want time to test out its new enterprise features.

But the compressed schedule is in keeping with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's new "rapid release" mantra. At Build, Ballmer told customers that short upgrade cycles will be "the new norm" for Redmond, and some analysts believe we should expect a new upgrade on the level of Windows 8.1 every year from now on.

Reller also used her WPC keynote to talk up Windows 8's sales figures, which so far haven't impressed OEMs and resellers. She reiterated Microsoft's claim that it has sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses, and added that it now has more than 20 million "enterprise evaluations." What's more, she said, customers have now used Windows 8 for more than 60 billion hours.

To keep that momentum going, Reller said Microsoft is launching new programs aimed at getting developers and resellers on board with Windows 8, including a "User Experience Design Competency" training program for designers, plus a program called TouchWins that offers distributors and resellers incentives to carry Windows 8 PCs and tablets with touchscreens.

Microsoft's 2013 WPC conference continues in Houston, Texas through July 11. ®

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