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Microsoft: Windows 8.1 to roll out October 18

The free update will kick off in New Zealand. Microsoft has been tinkering away at Windows 8.1 since its June unveiling, so even users of the preview edition will find a few surprises.

The Windows 8.1 Preview.
The Windows 8.1 Preview.

Windows 8.1 will make its official debut on October 18, Microsoft revealed on Wednesday.

The latest flavor of Windows will arrive at 12 a.m. local time on October 18 in New Zealand to begin its global tour. Windows 8 users around the world will be able to download and install 8.1 as a free update via Microsoft's Windows Store.

On the same day, Windows 8.1 also will pop up in the retail market on new PCs and tablets.

Windows 8.1 has been available in a preview edition since late June. Users who've installed the preview already have a good idea what's in store for the final version.

The new version of Windows offers a Start button, though not a Start menu. The button provides a visual cue to help you return to the Start screen. There's also a Boot to Desktop option for folks who want to bypass the Start screen entirely.

People who use the Start screen will find easier ways to customize and personalize it. Specific features, such as the All Apps screen and the Search tool, have also been enhanced. Several of the built-in apps have been improved as well.

Microsoft has also continued to enhance Windows 8.1 since June, so even users of the preview edition will find a few surprises.

Designed for both PCs and touch-screen devices, Windows 8 has proven a hit-or-miss affair with its dueling Modern and desktop approach. Some love it, others hate it. Either way, Windows 8.1 is Microsoft first attempt to make the OS more palatable than its predecessor.