Report: Windows 8.1 is ready to ship

According to multiple reports, Microsoft has finalized Windows 8.1, reaching what is known as "release to manufacturing" or RTM status.

Reports by ZDNet and The Verge indicate that Microsoft reached RTM status late last week, and Microsoft may announce the fact early this week. Blogger Paul Thurrott noted that the final build number was 9600.16384.130821-1623.

The RTM status means that Windows 8.1 has passed Microsoft's internal quality checks; for consumers, however, nothing has changed. Microsoft will release the Windows 8.1 preview on Oct.17. Users can still still download the Windows 8.1 consumer preview in the meantime; however, they won't be able to download the final bits until Oct. 17, when the preview is generally released. And if they do download the preview in advance of the final release, users will have to re-install their apps, though not their data. With less than two months to go before general availability, consumers may want to carefully consider whether upgrading is worth it.

(For those that do want to give Windows 8.1 a spin before its official release, check out our hands on, plus PCWorld's guide to installing the Windows 8.1 preview. We also round up the best new features and new Windows 8.1 apps, to boot.)

Microsoft hasn't said whether or not it will make the RTM build available via its TechNet (which is due to be phased out) or MSDN channels before Oct. 17. New TechNet subscriptions can be purchased up through Aug. 31, and must be activated before Sept. 30.

In July, Microsoft's Tami Reller told its hardware partners that they would have Windows 8.1 in hand before the end of August, with the message being that with Windows devices shipping this holiday season, "many of them will have Windows 8.1."

What's different this time around, however, is that hardware partners aren't necesssarily waiting for Windows 8.1 to ship before launching their own PCs. One top OEM, for example, is expected to refresh its consumer PC line on Monday, and executives told PCWorld that they didn't want to wait for Windows 8.1 before they shipped. That's a significant change from the Windows 8 launch, which rolled out with a flood of PCs, all at once.

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