We've known since last month that Windows 8.1 will be released to manufacturing in late August. However, Microsoft has kept strangely silent about the operating system upgrade's final release date—until now.
According to the latest post on the official Windows blog, Windows 8.1 will come out on October 17 at 4:00 AM, Pacific Time. (For some reason, Microsoft also quotes the release date for New Zealand: October 18 at 12:00 AM.) At that time, Windows 8.1 will "begin rolling out worldwide as a free update for consumers on Windows 8 through the Windows Store," according to the company.
The October 17 release date is just a few days shy of Windows 8's first birthday. Remember, Windows 8 hit stores on October 26 last year.
Based on the contents of the Windows 8.1 preview, which rolled out on June 26, it looks like we can expect the addition of some much-needed polish to the Windows 8 experience. The Start button will make a comeback (albeit without a corresponding menu), users will have more ways to customize the Start screen, and the search feature will be tuned up. Some new Modern UI apps will join the party, including Help + Tips, which will help users become familiar with the Modern UI interface. Wikpedia's Windows 8.1 entry also mentions a few under-the-hood improvements and support for new technologies.