Windows 8.1: How and when can volume licensees get the RTM bits?

Windows 8.1: How and when can volume licensees get the RTM bits?

Summary: If you're a Microsoft volume licensee, here's how and when you can (and can't) get your hands on the Windows 8.1 RTM bits ahead of the October 18 launch.


Microsoft's decision to reverse its previously stated plan and deliver the released-to-manufacturing (RTM) Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 bits ahead of launch had many developers rejoicing this week.


But what about Microsoft's volume license customers? The blog post in which Microsoft execs outlined their reversal was somewhat cryptic on this point.

Up until this year, Microsoft's volume licensees and those with TechNet/MSDN subscriptions were able to download the RTM versions of new Windows client and server releases shortly after the products RTM'd. Microsoft's new plan -- given it is now moving to a more rapid release cadence, and one via which it can continue to update products regularly, post-RTM -- was to withhold the RTM bits from everyone except OEMs until "launch"/general availability, which is October 18. Developer outcry led to the reinstatement of early RTM access for MSDN/TechNet.

The situation is more complicated for volume licensees, who are accustomed to being able to go to the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) and download RTM bits within days after they were declared "gold."

Starting this year, the RTM release of the latest Windows client and server products isn't going to be available en masse to all volume customers, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. Here's how the rollout will work, according to a spokesperson who answered my questions on this late on September 11:

Q: Will the Win 8.1 RTM bits go on VLSC later this month?

A: As we mentioned in Monday’s blog post, Windows 8.1 Enterprise RTM will be available later this month via TechNet and MSDN. (Note: The RTM Windows 8.1 Enterprise bits are available to volume licensees as of September 17.)

Volume License (VL) customers with active Software Assurance (SA) receive a TechNet subscription as a benefit of SA and can download Windows 8.1 Enterprise RTM bits when they are made available later this month on TechNet. Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) will provide Windows 8.1 Enterprise for download at GA but not before. VL customers with active SA who want early access are urged to take advantage of their TechNet subscription.

An aside (from me): "The number of users granted access (via TechNet) varies by product and by the type of license you have with Software Assurance. In other words, the number of users who can download the final bits early is limited.

Q: Will volume licensees get the enterprise SKU only? Or also Win 8.1 core and Win 8.1 Pro?

A: At GA (October 18), customers can access VLSC to get Windows 8.1 Enterprise and 8.1 Pro. Windows 8.1 (core) will not be available on VLSC but is available via MSDN in advance of GA.

Q: What about Windows Server 2012 R2? Which versions will be available and how/when?

A: No word back yet, but I am assuming the situation is the same for Windows Server 2012 R2: That volume licensees who want the RTM bits early need to have Software Assurance with TechNet subscription rights to get them. But I have a question into Microsoft to make sure and will update.

Update: Yes, the situation for Windows Server 2012 R2 is what I described above, a spokesperson confirmed.

For those asking about DreamSpark availability of the RTM bits: Microsoft execs have said (via Twitter and comments on blog posts) that Windows 8.1 RTM is available to academic institutions only via DreamSpark Premium (aka MSDN AA Developer) subscriptions. Subscriptions administrators can download it today from MSDN Subscriber Portal.

I'll be interested to see how Microsoft handles early availability of RTM Windows bits after this year. I've heard from a number of volume licensees that they want and need early availability so they can test before a new Windows release goes GA. But Microsoft has announced it is dropping its TechNet subscription program. Maybe Redmond will make the RTM bits available via the TechNet Evaluation Center? I guess we'll see in the coming year....

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Software Development


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Action Pack subscribers?

    Mary Jo - any ideas about Action Pack subscribers? When we'll have access?
  • action pack

    Here's the info (also rather complicated) on Action Pack access:

    Mary Jo Foley
  • 8 is dead.

    8 just became Vista, but with version 2.
    • You have Vista "part deaux".

      April fools is over time to develop a real operating system from the ground up.
      No more recursive hooks by relying on NTFS etc etc etc. Just get rid of the bloat, who cares if it can support a 19 year old serial mouse or not. MS would save themselves a lot of coding hassle if the simply returned responsibility of hardware support to the hardware manufacturers and stop tossing half baked generic drivers for everything just for the sake of compatibility.

      This solves two problems one it cuts down on compatibility bloat and two kicks starts falling PC and hardware sales. "This as opposed to making the golden boy flagship MS OS that can run on 10 yr old hardware".

      Why run out and buy a $800 machine to install this bloated sewer pickle on. When a used $99 dollar Core 2 Duo box will do just as well for the basics whenever I begin to feel sadomasochistic enough to install it.
  • Thank you MJ


    Thank you for this information. I good to see the bits are making it out the door to clients that need to have access to them.
  • Our Company Story

    I manage an I.T. department in the insurance industry with over 1000 users, and we have switched over to Linux. We finally had enough when MS released Windows 8, and through our projections, came to the conclusion that running our infrastructure on Windows was going to cost more per year opposed to using Linux. I won't say which distribution we are using, but it has been working flawlessly for us. Our servers never need to be defragged thanks to EXT4, and further improvements are coming with Btrfs. The same cannot be said about NTFS. No more registry, no more major worries about malware, and no more RPC vulnerabilities.

    A group of test users were given the chance to use Windows 8, and all of them complained after the first day and said they never wanted to have to deal with the operating system again. Microsoft is in a real quagmire these days; the level of irrelevancy in relation to their products gets heightened with each passing day. It's unfortunate they failed to listen to customers and follow standardized design UI principals, and have alienated existing Windows users.
    Lars Graffius
    • I'm sure more and more

      companies will be following this example....... It is the case now that most Linux distros are quite user friendly with a familiar desktop interface that any average user will feel at home with quite quickly.
      Maybe 10 - 15 years ago this was not the case and MS could have got away with such a radical and quantum step change in GUI interface as back then the Linux experience was not a realistic option for the average PC user. However trying to do it now is not much different to asking users to try and work with the Debian GUI of 15 years ago. People are simply going to look for an alternative system that works in a way that they are familiar with.
      The Central Scrutinizer
      • because booting to the desktop in 8.1 is

        unfamiliar? Enabling this feature makes more sense than a switch to Linux. Most users work from a small set of apps which can be pinned to the taskbar or placed on the desktop. End-Users are smarter than you give them credit for, they learned the sheepish UI found in Android and IOS so why can't they learn a different version of windows? Maybe some IT folks are lazy and don't want to work with end-users to support a new UI?
    • What exactly do your users run...

      That is easier (for the end user) to run on linux than windows 8?

      Because I also manage the IT dept at a large Insurance company and every major insurance industry application that I am aware of is either web based (OS has no effect on ease of operation) or Windows based (Doesn't run on linux). We just built a custom agency management application that does policy issuance, endorsement, financials, document management, you name it because we had spent several years trying to find one that met our needs and couldn't.

      How do you guys generate policies and what format do you use? How do you handle Accord forms? How did the cost savings break down? Ie. how long will it take before the cost of implementing an all new Linux distro across your whole organization begins saving you money over just upgrading the version of windows?

      And most importantly, why not just windows 7?
      • Probably because...

        ...there's really nothing to complain about with Windows 7, more like they were simply looking for an excuse to justify switching to Linux.
  • The Real Reason

    Everyone talks about how ugly Metro is, and that is very valid. But please keep in mind the REAL reason MS has tried to foist it on us. It is money. It has nothing to do with providing us with a single UI for all devices. It has to do with removing legacy software from the scene and forcing everyone to either purchase ALL software as apps from the MS store, or rent it as SaaS from MS.

    That, my friends, is the real reason MS created Win 8 the way they did. Which is a shame, since I have found that there are some very nice features in Win 8 as well as performance improvements. Their desire to force us all into a new and more expensive means of obtaining software is the real evil behind Win 8.

  • I know you mean digital bits, but...

    ... little useless bits is what Win8 is conceptually.
  • Win

    Installed 8.1 on notebook seems ok and fast
    Now have upgrade 1billion dollars software with clasic menu -:))
  • Windows vs Linux

    When I read those comments above about companies changing to Linux and saying how great it is, I wonder about what software their company needs to run in their office.
    I work for Accountants and it would be impossible for us to change to a solely Linux environment as we have to run the latest versions of software for both in house and client support that are only written for Windows. There are no other versions written for OSX or Linux.
    There are so many companies out there in this position.
    • It would be possible

      for your company to change. Although some of your required software may only be available for Windows it is very likely that it will run on Linux using a Windows emulater programme such as WINE.
      WINE used to be pretty awful 10 years or so back, but I am given to believe it has come along in leaps and bounds since then and is now extremely capable..
      The Central Scrutinizer
    • Linux?

      If someone tells you their company is switching to Linux on the desktop they are either lying or their company has less than 4 people. I could buy the story if they are talking about replacing AIX/Solairs with Linux. We are trying to do a lot of that ourselves. We will only have Redhat and Windows in the datacenter in a few years.
      • I always wonder...

        How small the company is or how small it's vendor base is. I know from managing IT in the title industry that if you have a large vendor base and are dependent on using their custom applications, you better be on Windows, because they aren't wasting their time developing on Linux.

        It's like mobile, apps for the popular OS first (IOS and Android) then maybe Windows Phone.

        Sure you can run it on emulators, but why? Because the OS is cheaper? Are you really saving money? We found that the widespread availability of Microsoft resources made the cost of maintenance lower that paying for the scarcer Linux resources.
        toe cutter
  • It is strange

    On our VL agreement they did release mak and Kms keys for Windows 8.1, but not the bits themselves, meanwhile kms keys for the server bits are still missing in action.