Windows 8.1 will be ready for manufacturers in August

Speaking at the company's annual Worldwide Partner Conference, currently being held in Houston, Texas, head of Windows, Tami Reller, revealed that the RTM version of its Windows 8.1 update would be rolling out to Microsoft's manufacturing partners in "late August;"

This is an impressively fast turnaround. The free preview version of Windows 8.1 was only made available to developers and consumers on June 26 yet, if the operating system does indeed ship when Reller says it will, Microsoft will have delivered in less than 10 weeks.

And such a quick turnaround would prove that Microsoft is upping its game with faster, more timely releases that reflect the rate of change in consumer technology and to show its customers that it really does listen and respond to criticism. And in the case of Windows 8, there was a lot of negative press.

It also means that come the holiday season, consumers will be able to buy a new PC with confidence as it will have the latest version of Windows installed. Meanwhile, for the reported 100 million users that have already upgraded to Windows 8, the await to download the free upgrade is only a matter of months away.

Windows 8.1 brings a number of improvements over Windows 8, including:

High-resolution display support
The updated software will automatically expand or contract icons and page furniture to match the resolution and size of a connected display. This is a key addition for consumers who want to use a tablet as their primary device but then dock it with a keyboard and standalone monitor (or even an HD TV) for home or office use.

Microsoft's take on panorama photography, this built-in app will automatically join smaller images together to create one panoramic whole.

Cataloguing apps
It's hard to believe that in Windows 8 there is no simple, straightforward or even logical way of viewing all of the apps installed on a computer together as a unified list. This problem has been dealt with rather elegantly and now a single swipe up pulls up a user's list of installed apps.

The start button
Its return is no surprise, Microsoft touted its arrival as a way of showing it was listening to its users. However, the way it has been integrated is slightly different from start buttons of old. Clicking on it does not pull up a start menu from the task bar which expands in outward sections as the user rolls a mouse over. Instead, clicking on ‘Start' opens a start page.

3D printing
Proving that the company really is looking to the future rather than simply trying to second-guess its competitors, Windows 8 will have native support for 3D printing. It means that companies that are gearing up to make consumer-focused 3D printers will be able to use Microsoft's official, supported code to write printer drivers for their products. But why stop at drivers? They can also create dialog boxes and even small, touch-responsive applications to support their printers.

Installing Windows 8.1 preview
If you want to test out the revamped operating system for yourself, downloading the preview edition of Windows 8.1 is very straightforward.

Go to the Windows 8.1 preview page and download an update file and follow the instructions.
Make sure your computer is fully backed up and that all of its installed software is up to date before proceeding.