It's ready, kids. Today Microsoft announced that Windows 8.1 has been completed, and seeded to manufacturers. But regular folks like us won't get our hands on the code until October 18. Interestingly, MSDN and TechNet subscribers won't get an early peek. Patience is the name of the Windows 8.1 flutter for now.
Windows 8.1 matters because it is an essential second attempt for Microsoft to dig in to the tablet market, and perhaps stimulate the flagging personal computer industry. If Windows 8.1 is a sufficiently large upgrade to Windows 8, and is paired with a strong crop of new hardware from admittedly beleaguered OEMs, Microsoft might slow the decline of the PC market. If not, declines will not staunch, and the Windows division will continue to cede leadership inside of Microsoft.
While Windows 8.1 cannot end the decline the of the PC, it could bring Microsoft growing market share in the tablet market, which it desperately needs. In this way, Windows is slightly unmoored from the PC market's decline - if Windows 8.1 can move on tablets, Microsoft can sell more copies of Windows, even as laptop and desktop sales fall.
Keep that in mind.
Microsoft calls Windows 8.1 a "significant update." That's true. The company is also quite proud of the speed with which it built the new operating system version. Ask yourself if it had a choice. If Microsoft went through another holiday season with Windows 8, how would sales have fared? Precisely.
Therefore the speed of the update only matters in that it demonstrates that Microsoft understands its market position - in some capacity - and can kick out a new build of an OS in a year. The contents matter much more, of course.
Windows 8.1, as I wrote a few months back, is a "slurry of feature upgrades, user interface changes, and completely new capabilities" that represent an important correction to Windows 8's endless quirks. It is a material improvement to Windows 8. However, until we see consumer reaction, we cannot truly measure if it is "enough." New applications, improved navigation and user interface design, and more are included in the 8.1 update. But are they enough?
I'd wager that Windows 8.1 is not enough by itself and cannot be. Without improved hardware options, consumers will remain cool to the code. However, Windows 8.1 on a decent touchscreen could be a compelling experience. If you found Windows 8 tolerable, and most did -- I think -- Windows 8.1 will be welcome. However, the laptop market is lagging in the touch department, which will harm Windows 8.1's roll out, as it is a dish best served hands-on.
Two months to go. Hold fast, 8.1 is coming.
Top Image Credit: Dell Inc.