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

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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....

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