Microsoft announced on Tuesday that Windows 8.1 will gain several new features next week -- but whatever you do, don't call the package "Update 2."
Rumors throughout the spring indicated that Microsoft would issue two significant Windows 8.1 updates before the end of the year, allegedly called "Update 1" and "Update 2." When the company revealed new features in April, however, execs called the bundle only "Windows 8.1 Update."
Execs also said Windows 8.1 users could expect another update before the end of the year that would include a Start menu, the absence of which drives many Windows 8 criticisms. This seemed to affirm that an "Update 2" was coming, but rumors have since said that the Start menu is being saved until next year, when Windows 9 is expected, and that Microsoft might attempt to downplay the second update.
[Is Microsoft finally ready to compete in the smartphone race? Read Windows Phone 8.1 Update: 7 Key Facts.]
That now appears to be the case. In a blog post, Microsoft senior marketing communications manager Brandon LeBlanc addressed online the reports head-on: "Despite rumors and speculation, we are not planning to deliver a Windows 8.1 'Update 2,'" he said.
Leblanc said the company will "continue to deliver improvements to Windows through regular updates" that will include both the security fixes already deployed every month, and non-security updates that will introduce new features and improvements. In essence, he recapitulated the "rapid release" philosophy that Microsoft execs have been hyping for more than a year. Rather than releasing monolithic updates every few years, the company will function more like today's fast-moving web companies, releasing a constant stream of feature improvements and bug fixes.
To illustrate, Leblanc referenced not only April's Windows 8.1 Update, but also improvements made to the Windows Store in May and to OneDrive in June. He stated that updates will continue to flow through the current channels. He also said some updates would be very visible to the end-user, while others would focus on under-the-hood improvements.
Leblanc did not address the Start menu. When asked if the Start menu is still scheduled to appear this year, a Microsoft rep told InformationWeek, "We look forward to sharing more information in the future, but have nothing more to share beyond what we shared at Build."
So what will users actually get next week? As rumored, without a Start menu to prop it up, the update is worthwhile but modest.
After the update, Windows 8.1 Update will support three new touchpad improvements: one that leaves the touchpad on when a mouse is connected, one that allows right-click functions on the touchpad, and one that allows double-tap and drag functionality.
The "August update" will also expose APIs that will enable Windows 8.1 devices to act as Miracast receivers. The update will also make it easier to log in to SharePoint Online; if you select the "keep me signed in" check box when you log in, you won't have to do so on subsequent visits.
Microsoft will release the update on August 12. On the same day, it will also release an update to Windows Server 2012 R2. It will add regular security updates and bug fixes but involves no changes to system APIs. Leblanc said customers could expect more details next week.
The Windows 8.1 update will be delivered automatically via Windows Update and optionally via Windows Server Update Services. Enterprises will be able to deploy the update at any time. Consumers who have activated automatic updates will receive the new bits on a "gradual" rollout, which Leblanc said will "ensure all customers receive the update in a timely manner."
Similarly, the Windows Server 2012 R2 update will be available through current distribution systems, including Windows Update and Windows Server Update Servers.
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