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Microsoft officially confirms Windows 8.1 shipping to PC makers

Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 8.1 has now officially been released to manufacturing (RTM), meaning holiday shoppers will be able to pick up a new PC with Microsoft's updated OS.

"In many ways, this marks a new day at Microsoft, reflecting a number of rapid release firsts," Antoine Leblond, corporate vice president of Windows program management, wrote in a blog post. "Thanks, in part, to customer feedback and an unparalleled level of collaboration across product teams, Windows 8.1 is a significant update."

Windows 8.1 is the first major update to Windows 8, which was released in October 2012. "We have delivered in a very short time an update to the OS that will bring an even greater unified experience for our customers," Leblond continued.

Companies like Microsoft typically release updated software to PC makers, or OEMs, prior to a consumer launch so they have time to load the new software onto PCs that will hit the shelves of Best Buy or be sold online.

Those with existing Windows 8 devices can update to 8.1 on 18 October for free, but it will also be available in new PCs, so this RTM launch provides HP, Acer, Lenovo and other Windows PC makers a few extra months to make sure it's ready to ship.

"While our partners are preparing these exciting new devices we will continue to work closely with them as we put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1 to ensure a quality experience at general availability on October 18th," Leblond wrote.

Rumours about Windows 8.1 RTM emerged this weekend after Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott tweeted the final build number for Windows 8.1. ZDNet followed up to say that 8.1 first started shipping to OEMs on 23 August, but Microsoft did not confirm until now.

Updates in 8.1 include more personalisation, Internet Explorer 11, search powered by Bing, built-in apps, an improved Windows Store experience, and cloud connectivity with SkyDrive.