Windows 8 has officially been released to manufacturing, which means it’s now in the hands of the hardware partners who will be building the next wave of Windows PCs. Those devices will be available for sale on October 26, which is also when the general public will be able to buy retail copies of Windows 8.
If you’re a Microsoft Partner Network member, or if you have a Volume License/Software Assurance agreement, you will be able to download Windows 8 under either of those program’s terms. You can also download Windows 8 for free if your startup business is a member of Microsoft's BizSpark program (and this program is well worth looking into for startups on a tight budget).
If you’re not a partner and you can’t wait, here are three options that can allow you to begin using the final release of Windows 8 now.
Update: For both TechNet and MSDN, download the ISO file titled Windows 8. It contains both Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. The edition installed is dependent on your product key. For details, see this post from Mike Kinsman of the MSDN and TechNet Subscriptions Support team.
This subscription-based program is designed to allow IT professionals to evaluate Microsoft software. Two subscription plans are available: Standard ($199 US for the first year) and Professional ($349 US). Renewals are discounted. A summary of the differences is here.
All TechNet subscribers currently have access to Windows 8 Pro. TechNet Professional subscribers also have access to Windows 8 Enterprise. The TechNet Subscriptions Software License Terms allow you “to install the program software on any devices for evaluation purposes. ... You may not use it in a live operating environment, a staging or production environment, or with data that has not been sufficiently backed up. You may not use the evaluation software for software development or in an application development environment.”
A TechNet Professional subscription allows you to generate three license keys for Windows 8 Pro and three for Windows 8 Pro N. For the Enterprise edition, a single Multiple Activation Key is available.
In keeping with recent changes in the TechNet program, the license is good during the term of the subscription only. The software itself won’t expire or time out, but the license rights require that you renew the subscription to continue evaluating Windows 8.
If you’re a TechNet member, log in and click the Subscriber Downloads button to find the products available for you.
Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN)
If you’re a software developer building apps for Windows, one of these subscriptions might be right for you. The full range of MSDN subscriptions start with MSDN Operating Systems ($699 US) and go up to Visual Studio Ultimate with MSDN ($13,299). Details and a breakdown of all plans are here.
Software you download under an MSDN license may be used for “design, development, testing, and demonstration of your programs.” According to the license terms, “Using the software in any other way, such as for doing email, playing games, or editing a document is another use and is not covered by the MSDN subscription license."
An MSDN Visual Studio Professional account ($1,199 US for the first year, $799 per year for renewals) includes the right to download Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows 8 Enterprise. This subscription allows you to generate five license keys each for Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 N, and Windows 8 Pro N. For the Enterprise edition, a single Multiple Activation Key is available.
Unlike TechNet subscriptions, MSDN licenses include "perpetual use" rights, allowing you to continue to use the software even if your subscription expires. The software itself is identical to retail versions.
Windows 8 evaluation for developers
Both of the previously described subscription programs require annual payments and impose significant licensing restrictions. If all you want to do is try out the RTM bits, maybe a free 90-day evaluation version will get the job done.
As it has done with Windows 7, Microsoft offers a trial version of the Enterprise edition. Although the stated goal is to help developers build and test Windows 8 apps and to allow IT pros to try Windows 8, there are no license restrictions on the software. No product key is required, although you must register using a Microsoft account and activate the software within 10 days.
A word of warning: There’s no supported upgrade path from this trial edition to a retail edition. At the conclusion of the 90-day period, the software will go into “non-genuine mode,” with a black background; the PC will shut down every hour. You will need to completely replace the software with a new retail version.
Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available as ISO images in the following languages: Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), English, English (UK), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazil), and Spanish.