Microsoft has reportedly signed off on the final version (the RTM) of Windows 8.1 update one.
According to an internal source, the new version of Windows 8 is on schedule to be released on 8 April, just after Microsoft's Build conference. You will probably be glad to hear that most of the changes in the Windows 8.1 update are focused on making the OS usable for mouse-and-keyboard users.
Basically, this is Microsoft's rather desperate extension of an olive branch to those who still haven't upgraded from XP or Windows 7 — the originally touch-centric approach of Windows 8 obviously wasn't the critical success that Microsoft needed, and so now the company is scrambling to pick up those beleaguered desktop PC users before it's too late.
Leaked screenshots from the RTM build of Windows 8.1 update one come from Wzor (Russian). According to Wzor, the full build string is 9600.17031.WINBLUE_GDR.140221-1952, and it was compiled on 21 February. The screenshots don't appear to confirm any new details, other than those of the update's installer (it's around 800MB, and it's being called a "Feature Pack" rather than a Service Pack). It's still unknown what name the update will actually be released under — it might be update one, or it might be the spring update.
Feature-wise, the Windows 8.1 update is focused mostly on improving usability for mouse-and-keyboard users. Metro apps now exist on the Desktop taskbar, and they now have the standard Windows-style title bar at the top (allowing you to easily close/minimise), and non-touch devices will now have the power (shutdown, restart, suspend) menu available from the new Start screen. For both touch and non-touch devices, there will also be a new search button available on the Start screen (it's the same as the search button on the charms bar, as far as we know). For better or worse, you can now also right click a Start screen title to interact with it.
While it isn't 100 per cent confirmed, we believe that the Windows 8.1 update will boot straight to the desktop for non-touch users. Some early builds also altered the file associations for non-touch users, so that your laptop/desktop PC doesn't randomly flip into Metro mode when you open a photo or audio file.
Finally, it will also see a reduction in the system requirements. The update will require just 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage — yes, very similar requirements to Windows Phone 8 — with the hope of encouraging the production of cheaper Windows tablets. Combine this with the recent news that Microsoft is also looking at giving away Windows 8.1 for free, and it would seem that the company is all-in on growing its anaemic market share, by hook or by crook.