Microsoft confirmed on Tuesday (via The Verge) that Windows 8.1 has been released to manufacturing (meaning it has reached the RTM stage). Basically, that means that its hardware partners can now start plopping the final image onto systems.
However, don't get too excited just yet. The release of Windows 8.1, including new systems that will ship with the update pre-installed, is still scheduled for Oct. 18 (for both Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1).
Existing Windows 8 users will be able to update for free on that date, as well, with most regions gaining access to a digital upgrade copy on Oct. 17 via the Windows Store.
In addition, MSDN and TechNet customers won't gain early access to Windows 8.1 It had been hoped that such would be the case, but Microsoft has smacked down any such hopes, saying subscribers will have to wait until the general availability date of Oct. 18.
While the company didn't elaborate on "why," but in a response to a question in a blog post comment on its Windows site, Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc said:
We are continuing to put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1 to ensure a quality experience at general availability for (all) customers.
In other words, while Windows 8.1 is RTM, the company will be pushing a number of changes and fixes between now and Oct. 18 that OEMs will incorporate into their final products.