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Microsoft shipping Windows 8.1 to Acer, Dell and other PC makers in August

The first big update to Windows 8 - dubbed Windows 8.1 - will be available to manufacturers by late August, Microsoft has announced at its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC).

That release to OEMs means that Windows 8.1 will be pre-loaded on "many" of the devices that will be released ahead of the holiday season, chief marketing officer Tami Reller said during a keynote.

PC makers like HP, Acer, and more are typically provided with early access to new and updated versions of Microsoft's OS so they can test them out and pre-load them onto upcoming systems.

Windows 8.1 is scheduled to be released to consumers later this year as a free update for Windows 8 users. Microsoft has not announced a hard release date yet, but promised more details in the coming months.

A preview version of Windows 8.1 was released at Microsoft's Build conference in San Francisco last month. As we noted in our hands-on, "the new OS make helpful changes to the user interface, [and] drastically improves built-in search, SkyDrive cloud syncing, and the Windows app store. The included set of modern apps also get refreshes, and business and security features get bolstered."

Microsoft's Jensen Harris provided another Windows 8.1 demo at WPC, which highlighted how Windows 8.1 is "optimized to work great on small-form-factor devices and portrait view."

"He also demoed the Reading List app that lets you share articles from the web and content from other apps to read later which roams with you across your Windows devices through the cloud courtesy of SkyDrive," Microsoft said in a blog post.

The demo also highlighted the updated search experience on Windows 8.1, which is powered by Bing, including music search via Xbox Music. Users "can share a webpage to the Xbox Music app where it 'scrapes' the webpage for mentions of songs to create a playlist for you based on the music mentioned on a webpage," Microsoft said.

WPC attendees also got a look at Miracast, which is built into Windows 8.1 and streams HD video and audio over Wi-Fi to another display like a TV. "With Surface Pro, [Harris] essentially turned a TV into a whiteboard with the OneNote app," Microsoft said.