epa03612332 View of the logo of software corporation Microsoft in Hanover, Germany, 06 March 2013. (SEBASTIAN KAHNERT/EPA)

Microsoft said Tuesday that consumers can get their copy of the new version of its Windows operating system Oct. 18 and that it has already shipped the updated Windows 8.1 to manufacturers.

The consumer release is just shy of Windows 8’s one-year anniversary, and comes on the heels of the big, company-changing news announced last week that chief executive Steve Ballmer will be stepping down.

Although last year the company allowed certain Microsoft developers and fans to get their hands on Windows 8 ahead of its commercial release, it looks like everyone will be getting access to Windows 8.1 at the same time.

That’s because the company is still putting the final touches on the system, according to Antoine LeBlond, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Windows Web Services. Because the tech firm is now focusing on releasing updates more quickly, LeBlond said in a company blog post, Microsoft has had to “evolve the way we develop” and is working more closely with hardware partners to get a variety of Windows 8.1 systems to consumers ahead of the holiday season.

“While our partners are preparing these exciting new devices we will continue to work closely with them as we put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1 to ensure a quality experience at general availability,” LeBlond said.

Windows 8.1 comes with several changes, including some walk-backs from the ambitious — and oft-criticized -- Windows 8 overhaul that Microsoft made last year. While Windows 8.1 retains much of the touch-based, tiled interface of Windows 8, it also brings back some of the older layout features that had been stripped out in last year’s new operating system. For example, users get their start button back and can now boot straight to the desktop.

Windows 8.1 also incorporates Bing search and, according to Microsoft, makes it easier to customize tiles on the system.