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Windows81PreviewSta_01_PageMicrosoft just announced the official release date for Windows 8.1, saying it will make the finished version of the operating system update available in stores on Oct. 18 and online via the Windows Store a day before, on Oct. 17.

Windows 8.1, which had previously been released as an unfinished preview, will also be available on new PCs and tablets on Oct. 18, according to a post by Microsoft on the official Blogging Windows site.

This release, just shy of year since the Windows 8 debut. It’s part of a broader attempt by Microsoft to update features in Windows and other products on a faster schedule, and more incrementally. Previously the company was on a three-year Windows release cycle.

It’s also an opportunity, at least, for Microsoft to boost Windows 8 sales. Consumer PC sales have been slumping as many people opt for iPads and other competing devices instead.  The Oct. 18 release date for Windows 8.1 means that Windows PCs and tablets on retail shelves for the holidays will be running the newest version of the operating system.

The update brings a variety of changes, many of them designed to address the criticism of the operating system since its release. For example, users will be able to set the operating system to boot directly to the traditional desktop, bypassing the new Start screen.

Other changes include the return of a Start button on the desktop, although it’s designed to take users to the new Start screen rather than to the classic pop-up menu used in older Windows versions. Microsoft is releasing several of its own apps for Windows 8.1, including a Food & Drink app, Bing Health & Fitness, and Movie Moments, for lightweight video editing.

Microsoft has also integrated its Bing search engine more deeply into the experience, with a new universal search feature called “Smart Search” that makes it faster to search across apps, files, settings and the web.

[PreviouslyHands-on with Windows 8.1: What to expect from Microsoft’s big update]

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