Win8China reports that Microsoft has released Windows 8.1 to OEMs, indicating that the free update for Windows 8 users should arrive soon.
The claim is based on build 9477 (or 9478 claims Russian site PCPro) which supposedly shows that the platform has entered the escrow stage, meaning that Windows 8.1 has become feature-locked. This build is said to be currently under testing by OEMs now and could mean that Microsoft may actually reach RTM by August as originally planned. Windows 8.1 Preview for consumers was made available on June 26, and Windows 8.1 Preview for Enterprise went live on July 30.
Meanwhile, the latest leaked build appearing in the news channel is 9471. In this version, Microsoft has reportedly made the learning curve of Windows 8 a bit easier, and now includes a narrow bar stretched out along the top or bottom screen of built-in apps featuring three dots on the right side, similar to what Microsoft does with Windows Phone 8 apps. These dots indicate that there are additional menu options that can be accessed by right-clicking on the screen, or by swiping from the top or bottom of the display or touchpad.
The leaked build also shows that several built-in apps will remind users to swipe in from the right bezel to reveal the Charms bar which includes a Start shortcut and other app-specific options. Microsoft's Help & Tips app, which was revealed in June but not included in the Windows 8.1 Preview, also makes a partial appearance, providing video clips on how to use SkyDrive (or whatever the cloud drive's new name will be), how to navigate the new Modern UI interface, and more.
CNET reports that Skype comes pre-installed in Build 9471, and Microsoft also makes available new Start screen backgrounds including a moving robot and a fire dragon that, like Android wallpaper, travels as the user swipes left or right across the screen. Several built-in apps have also been enhanced such as Mail, which allows users to move items via drag and drop, and open new multi-tasking windows.