Windows 8.1 will be released to manufacturers in late August, Windows Chief Marketing Officer Tami Reller said this morning.
“Release to manufacturing” — or RTM — means the operating system is ready for manufacturers to install in their devices, in preparation for the sales of those devices to customers.
This schedule means that Windows 8.1 devices should be on track to general availability to the public by the holidays, as Microsoft has been planning.
Reller made her remarks on the opening day of the Worldwide Partner Conference, going on through Thursday in Houston. About 15,000 people are attending.
Windows 8.1 will include changes designed to address some of the most vocal criticisms about Windows 8. Windows 8.1 will bring back a Start button (which will take the user back to the Start screen rather than pull up a Start menu), allow users to boot to desktop, and make the transition between the tile-based and desktop-based modes of the operating system visually less jarring. New features include Smart Search, which allows users to perform global searches of their local files, apps, cloud storage and the Web.
Microsoft released a preview of Windows 8.1 during its Build developer conference in late June. It is available for download here.
During her WPC keynote speech, Reller also reiterated that 100 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold, and added that there are now more than 20 million enterprise evaluations of Windows 8 under way.
Reller also introduced two new programs, including a User Experience Design Competency, launching in January, to train partners’ designers on the Microsoft design language. The other program, called TouchWins, provides incentives to authorized distributors and resellers who sell featured Windows 8 Pro touch devices.
The next major keynote from Microsoft bigwigs is scheduled for 7 a.m. PT Wednesday and features CVP of Worldwide Partner Group Jon Roskill, COO B. Kevin Turner, Microsoft Chief Storyteller Steve Clayton and CVP of Worldwide Public Sector Laura Ipsen. It will be livestreamed here.