Windows 8.1 digital download will be released October 17, full retail launch October 18

A day after rampant rumors hinted at an October release date for the impending Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft has gone ahead and let the cat out of the bag: Windows 8.1 will roll out to users via the Windows Store at 7 A.M. Eastern time on October 17.

Microsoft's blog lists the technical release date as October 18, with the digital floodgates opening at midnight New Zealand time. Indeed, beyond its early Windows Store availability, The Verge reports that Windows 8.1's full-blown retail launch—boxed discs, new hardware, etc.—will be on October 18. Microsoft's manufacturing partners are expected to receive the final RTM version of Windows 8.1 by the end of August, giving them time to prepare for the launch.

While Windows 8.1 won't win over desktop diehards who loathe the new-look modern UI with a deep and utter hatred, the update is a true lesson in course correction and will do a lot to smooth over Windows 8's roughest edges. Windows 8.1 is chock-full of new featuresnew appsnew highlights, and yes, even new (and awesome!) secrets. And hey, even reluctant Windows 8 upgraders will find plenty to like. The switch between the dueling modern and desktop interfaces is no longer quite so jarring, and Windows 8.1 will even let you boot directly to the desktop.

Not too shabby for an update that's coming out just shy of Windows 8's one-year anniversary on October 26. Microsoft's also tossing business users a bone, with R2 versions of Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012 R2, and the latest update to Windows Intune being released at the same time as Windows 8.1.

Intrigued? Incredulous? Impatient? Just plain interested? Microsoft's already offering a preview version of the Windows 8.1 update for those daring souls who don't mind delving deep into unfinished software. Check out PCWorld's guide to installing the Windows 8.1 preview to give all the new features a whirl today.

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