Microsoft: Windows 8.1 is now in PC makers' hands

The first big update to Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing -- that is, to Microsoft's partners, and only them. Everyone else, you'll have to cool your heels until October 18.

Windows 8.1 start screen
Windows 8.1: Ready, set, go. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Microsoft announced Tuesday that Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 have been released to manufacturing and are now being delivered to its OEM partners.

Company officials also confirmed, as I blogged earlier this month, that there will be no early access to the Windows 8.1 release-to-manufacturing bits by subscribers to MSDN/TechNet and volume-license customers. They will have to wait for Windows 8.1's launch, October 18, to get the gold code.

Put down the pitchforks -- at least for a minute -- and consider this:

Point 1: Yes, it's true: This is not how Microsoft has rolled out the final Windows bits in the past. With previous Windows releases -- even Windows 8 -- Microsoft RTM'd the bits, handed them off to OEMs, and made them available to MSDN/TechNet and volume licensees a couple weeks later. These groups got the gold bits a month or more before Microsoft "launched" the new release and made it available at retail. Starting with Windows 8.1, this changes and everyone gets the gold bits at the same time.

Point 2: Release to manufacturing, or RTM, doesn't mean what it used to. Microsoft technically RTM'd Windows 8.1 on Friday, August 23 (though today's blog post makes no mention of this fact). That was the day that the Windows team, internally, decided that Windows 8.1 was good enough to be declared done enough to send to OEMs. Today's announcement marks the next phase of RTM: Microsoft is starting to release the Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 bits to its OEMs. (We need a new word to replace "RTM," in my opinion. But for now, we are stuck with it.)

Point 3: Microsoft doesn't "make" Windows like it used to. Instead of spending 2.5 to 3 years planning, developing and testing a new Windows build, Microsoft did all that in 10 months this time around. Consequently, the company will be patching and updating Windows 8.1 and all the bundled apps that come with it (Mail, Calendar, the core Office apps, the Bing consumer apps, IE 11) right up until the launch. Microsoft will push updates to the whole shebang just before customers can get their hands on the final bits.

Point 4: Because of Point 3, things are different for developers, too. At Build this year, Microsoft told developers who wanted to build apps for Windows 8.1 to use the Visual Studio 2013 preview and the Windows 8.1 consumer preview to update their apps to take advantage of the new features in Windows 8.1. Officials detailed the application programming interface (API) changes that Windows 8.1 will bring. And they also noted that all existing Windows Store/Metro-Style apps that run on Windows 8 will run on Windows 8.1.

Point 5: The decision to withhold the RTM bits until launch probably does mean more folks will be downloading non-official RTM builds that will likely leak between now and October 18. Microsoft's advice is, unsurprisingly, users should wait for the "official" RTM bits and expect possible patches and updates to the consumer preview builds that the company released in late June in the interim.

In case you are wondering, we still don't know how much Windows 8.1 will cost. Windows 8.1 will be free for existing Windows 8 users, but Microsoft still hasn't said what it will cost at retail for those looking to upgrade from previous versions of Windows.

Developers and volume-license customers: Do you see delaying availability of the gold Windows 8.1 bits hurting you in any way (after reading the points above)? And remember: I am just the messenger here. 

This story originally appeared at ZDNet under the headline "Microsoft confirms Windows 8.1 RTM; no early access to final bits."

About the author

    Mary Jo Foley has been a tech journalist for almost 30 years. She is editor of ZDNet's "All About Microsoft" blog. She authored "Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era" and co-hosts the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT Network.

     

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