Microsoft reverses course; releases Windows 8.1 RTM to developers

Microsoft is making the 'gold' Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 bits available to developers and volume licensees ahead of the October 18 general-availability date, after all.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

The Microsoft course reversals -- such as the reintroduction of a Windows Start Button and the cancellation of the "Always On" requirement for Xbox One -- are continuing.


The latest 180, announced by the company on September 9, is that MSDN/TechNet subscribers and volume licensees are going to be able to get their hands on the Windows 8.1 release to manufacturing (RTM) bits early, after all. In fact, Microsoft is making the RTM versions of Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro available to those groups today, September 9, starting at 10 a.m. PST. Microsoft also will be releasing the RTM version of Windows Server 2012 R2 to MSDN/TechNet and volume licensees today.

The Windows 8.1 Enterprise SKU will be available to MSDN/TechNet and volume licensees before the end of September, officials said today. The RTM version of Windows 8.1 RT still isn't going to be released early. (Windows 8.1 RT has leaked to the Web, however.)

Update (September 12): If you're a volume licensee, you might want to read this about how/when/if you can get the Windows 8.1 RTM bits early.

Microsoft's decision, reiterated a couple of weeks ago, was to withhold the RTM bits from everyone until October 18, the official "launch" of the product. This unprecedented move resulted in outcry from many -- especially developers. Some devs maintained they needed the RTM bits to make sure their current Windows apps work with the soon-to-be-released update to Windows 8. (The devs also need the RTM version of Visual Studio 2013 to get their updated Windows apps ready. The near-final but not-yet-RTM version of Visual Studio 2013, the Release Candidate build, is available to developers today, as well.

Why the change of heart around early access? Microsoft execs say they heard loud and clear that the original decision not to provide partners with the RTM bits early made for "a big challenge" for those preparing for 8.1 availability. (I'm not quite sure why it took expected, vociferous complaints for Microsoft management to realize this, but at least they are responding.)

The Windows Store still won't be open early for submission of updated and new applications; that still is slated for October 18, which is general availability/launch day for Windows 8.1. "The RTM versions of tools, services, and platform are required for store submissions," Microsoft officials reminded developers in a blog post today.

Microsoft will be continuing to "refine and update the product and tools in preparation for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 general availability on October 18 and the release of Visual Studio 2013 RTW (release to Web, which is October 18)," according to today's blog post. Updates to built-in drivers and bundled apps are continuing. Microsoft plans to push these updates to PC makers just before October 18.

Third-party apps may require "final refinement to onboard" by the time of the October 18 general availability milestone, the post cautions. However, from what I've heard, the RTM versions of Windows 8.1/Windows Server 2012 R2 and the RC version of Visual Studio 2013 should provide developers with what they need, from an application programming interface (API) and feature perspective so they can get their apps in the store quickly after October 18.

Microsoft RTM'd Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 on August 24 and announced RTM on August 27. Officials said they had decided against making the RTM bits available to anyone but PC makers because it was still putting "the finishing touches" on the operating systems.

I'll be curious to see -- if Microsoft continues releasing new versions of Windows on an annual or near-annual basis -- whether it will continue to release RTM bits early to developers and volume licensees or try to change that historical pattern in the future.

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