Want Windows 8.1 now? Sorry, you’ll have to wait.

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Microsoft has said Windows 8.1 will be finished sometime this month, but if you’re anxious to get the update to the operating system on your PC, you’ll have to exercise patience.

That’s because, according to Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, Microsoft is going to wait until “mid-October 2013 or so” to release the finished version of Windows 8.1. Sorry, no immediate gratification for you!

Foley speculates as to why Microsoft wants to wait:

Even if Microsoft waits until mid-October to release the Windows 8.1 RTM bits, the company still will have managed to deliver to customers a new release of Windows within almost exactly a year – instead of three years after the previous release, as was the length of time between the release of Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Holding back the RTM bits immediately could give Microsoft other benefits. It could give the company more time to stamp out bugs remaining at RTM and deliver fixes for them to those with the preview build via regular patches and updates. It also could provide the company with more of a bigger bang launch event. The Windows 8 launch felt to many as though it was anti-climactic, as they had the final bits in hand for a month-plus before it happened.

And as Tom Warren at The Verge points out, delaying the release gives hardware makers time to update their drivers. Windows 8 and 8.1 do a much better job of delivering hardware drivers to PCs than Windows 7, but hardware makers must submit them to Microsoft in a timely fashion for this process to work. With more time to get them polished, higher-quality drivers will be delivered to PCs when the final release of Windows 8.1 is installed on an existing computer.

A recently leaked interim release of Windows 8.1 reportedly shows the progress Microsoft has made as it closes in on the finish line. The build, numbered 9471, now includes a series of tips and tutorials aimed at first-time users of the tile-based interface that first appeared in Windows Phone and then Windows 8. One of the knocks against Windows 8 was that it threw users into this new pool without any swimming lessons, and Windows 8.1 appears to fix that problem, among many others.

But if this will be enough to tempt those who’ve stayed away from Windows 8 in droves remains to be seen. With PC sales sluggish, and some analysts laying the blame squarely on Windows 8, Microsoft needs Windows 8.1 to be something of a silver bullet.

Microsoft has been pushing the notion that, to really get the most of Windows 8, folks should use it on a touch-capable PC. But Computerworld reports on new IDC numbers indicating customers aren’t  flocking to touchscreen notebooks running Windows 8. As a result, the market research firm has cut its forecast for sales of these systems:

According to IDC, touch-ready laptop shipments are significantly lower than optimistic forecasts by computer makers such as Acer, whose president, Jim Wong, said in May that by the end of the year 30% to 35% of his company’s notebooks would sport touchscreens.

“We forecast that 17% to 18% of all notebooks would have touch this year,” Bob O’Donnell, an analyst with IDC, said in an interview Friday, referring to the research firm’s own estimates earlier this year. “But that now looks to be too high, to be honest.” He said IDC would probably drop its touch estimates to between 10% and 15% of all laptops.

Others have already pegged touch to that range for the year. In April, NPD DisplaySearch said that about 12% of notebooks sold in 2013 would be equipped with touch.

Microsoft has bet the Windows franchise on the concept of a hybrid operating system that works on both tablets and traditional PCs. So far, it’s been a losing bet, and Microsoft has one more shot to get it right with Windows 8.1. That’s probably why the company is taking its time to get the operating system – and the marketing message used to to sell it – just right. With Windows 8.1, failure is not an option, but it’s a very real possibility.

Dwight Silverman | Techblogger, social media manager

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