Windows 8.1 is an update of the Windows 8 operating system. First unveiled and released as a public beta in June 2013, 8.1 was released to manufacturing on August 27, 2013, and hit general availability on October 17, 2013—almost a year since the original, retail release of 8. 8.1 is available as a free update for existing Windows 8 and Windows RT users via Windows Store, but unlike the service packs of previous versions of Windows, it is not distributed through Windows Update, and users who obtained 8 outside of retail copies or pre-loaded installations (i.e. volume licensing) must obtain 8.1 through new installation media from their respective subscription or enterprise channel. As with previous service packs, installation of 8.1 will be required to maintain access to Windows 8′s mainstream support after January 12, 2016, per Microsoft’s software lifecycle policies.
Released as part of a shift by Microsoft towards regular, yearly updates for its platforms and services, Windows 8.1 was primarily intended to address complaints which Windows 8 faced from users and reviewers on launch. Visible enhancements includes an upgraded Start screen, additional snap views, additional bundled apps, tighter SkyDrive integration, Internet Explorer 11, a Bing-powered unified search system, restoration of a visible Start button on the taskbar to open the Start screen, and the ability to restore the previous behavior of opening the user’s desktop on login instead of the Start screen. Windows 8.1 also added support for emerging technologies such as high resolution displays, 3D printing, Wi-Fi Direct, and Miracast streaming.
Windows 8.1 received relatively positive reception, with critics praising the expanded functionality available to apps in comparison to 8, its SkyDrive integration, along with its user interface tweaks and the addition of expanded tutorials for operating the Windows 8 interface. Despite these improvements, 8.1 was still panned for not addressing all of the digressions of 8 (such as a poor level of integration between Metro-style apps and the desktop interface), and the potential privacy implications of 8.1′s expanded use of online services.