On Monday during Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Houston, Texas, Windows CMO and CFO Tami Reller announced that Windows 8.1 RTM will be available for OEM partners in late August. That means OEMs will be able to get the updated platform and begin preparing their new and current Windows 8 devices just in time for the holidays. Additional details regarding consumers and other customers on how to get Windows 8.1 will be provided in the coming months.
The update will bring a portfolio of improvements including the ability to bring the desktop background to the Start screen, making the transition from one to the other both less jarring and less disconnected. The Start button is also making a return, but it won't feature the familiar Start menu but rather bring users back to the Start screen. The mail app will also see an improvement among other much-needed updates and enhancements to the Windows 8 platform.
According to Brandon LeBlanc, Jensen Harris joined Reller on the conference stage and demoed a new Reading List app. It allows users to share articles from the web and content from other apps to read later using data that "roams" across Windows devices thanks to SkyDrive. He also demoed a search feature for music integrated with Xbox Music where users can share a webpage and the Xbox Music app will create a playlist according to what it pulls from that page.
"Jensen demoed for the first time new technology built into Windows 8.1 called Miracast that streams HD video and audio over Wi-Fi to another display like a TV," LeBlanc said. "With Surface Pro, he essentially turned a TV into a whiteboard with the OneNote app."
In addition to the Windows 8.1 news, Reller also introduced the User Experience Design Competency launching in January 2014. This will provide a way for partners to train their designers and get recognized for their expertise with the Microsoft Design Language. She also revealed a program called TouchWins, a new commercial channel incentive for authorized distributors and reseller partners who sell featured Windows devices.
Reller said at the conference that Microsoft now has more than 20 million enterprise evaluations and that Windows 8 has logged 60 billion hours of use. Even more, new customer activation continues at a consistent pace. Microsoft released a preview version of Windows 8.1 to customers just two weeks ago, presented as an update in Windows Store and as a downloadable ISO.