With no early Windows 8.1 RTM bits, what's a developer to do?

Microsoft won't allow new Windows 8.1 apps to be published Windows Store until October 18, nor will the company be providing RTM bits early to devs for testing. So what should devs do now?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

On August 27, Microsoft confirmed what had been rumored for a couple of weeks: Developers won't be getting early access to the Windows 8.1 RTM bits.


That revelation set off quite a storm on Twitter and in comments on blogs (including mine). How are developers supposed to be ready with apps that take advantage of Windows 8.1's new features and programming interfaces if they can't get access to the RTM bits ahead of the October 18 Windows 8.1 launch?

Developers have traditionally gotten early access via MSDN and TechNet, allowing them to test their apps against the RTM bits to make sure all works properly. But Microsoft began changing this pattern starting with Windows Phone 8, when the company opted to delay availability of the Windows Phone 8 SDK for most (but not all) developers until launch.

In the case of Windows Phone 8, Microsoft officials said they were holding back the SDK out of fear they'd reveal new features that they didn't want known until launch. (There were no major new features for Windows Phone 8 revealed during the launch that hadn't leaked previously.) In the Windows 8.1 case, secrecy doesn't seem to be the reason; instead, Microsoft is still updating the RTM code -- and plans to do so right up until just before launch.

Not too surprisingly, the Windows Store in 8.1 isn't opening for app publishing until October 18, the day Windows 8 becomes generally available, Microsoft officials confirmed in a post on the App Builder blog today. We still don't have a date as to when Microsoft will release the gold version of Visual Studio 2013 beyond some time before the end of calendar 2013. (Some company watchers had been expecting the VS 2013 final bits would be released today, too, given Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 both have been released to manufacturing.)

Between now and October 18, the Softies reiterated, developers should code against the Windows 8.1 customer preview bits that were released in late June, using the Visual Studio 2013 preview, which also was released to testers in late June. By doing so, developers can begin updating their apps to take advantage of Windows 8.1 features including faster app startup times, improved animation rendering, additional tile sizes and templates, the new Bing-centric search experience, new controls and more, Microsoft officials say.

On October 18, once the Windows Store opens, developers will be able to "onboard" new apps or an 8.1 version of their existing Windows 8 apps using the same app ID. That will allow developers to have their 8 and 8.1 apps share ratings and reviews, as well as allow users to automatically get the 8.1 verion of an app when they update. It also will allow developers to update both their Windows 8 and 8.1 apps if they choose.

Microsoft officials have said all existing Windows Store/Metro-Style Windows 8 apps will work on Windows 8.1. But there are some things that are not supported in the Visual Studio 2013 preview that supposedly will be supported by the time it's generally available, such as behaviors. That's leading to warranted developer questions about what else may be changing on the API and tooling front between now and launch.

Microsoft officials said there will be more guidance coming on the Windows App Builder blog "(a)s we approach the general availability of Windows 8.1 and of Visual Studio 2013." (That wording makes me think VS 2013 might not be generally available until October 18 or so. But no one from Microsoft is saying for now.) The other place to check for information on getting apps ready for publishing to the Windows Store in 8.1 is the Windows Dev Center, the Softies said.

There's also a white paper Microsoft released at Build this year, entitled "Optimizing your migrated Windows 8 apps: building better experiences with Windows 8.1" that may help those looking to update their Windows Store apps to Windows 8.1.

Here are a few more MSDN links that might help:

I'd like to hear from Windows developers who have built Windows 8 apps about what you've found re: how your app works or doesn't on Windows 8.1 customer preview. And anyone writing apps that take advantage of Windows 8.1's new features: Anything you're concerned as Microsoft marches toward launch?

Also: Any theories what else Microsoft may be doing on the tooling side that might have contributed to the decision to delay developer access to the bits? Could Microsoft possibly reveal a common app store for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8 at the Windows 8.1 launch? Or something new along greater commonality of the phone and Windows code bases? Just thinking aloud....

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