Believe or not, folks, Microsoft execs still have not said when Windows 8 will be "done."
"Done," in this case, can mean either released to manufacturing or made generally available -- your call. But in spite of any rumors you've read, pundits to whom you've cleaved, or partners who claim to be in the know, there's been no officially sanctioned word.
This isn't too surprising, given the increasingly secrecy-obsessed Windows regime. But given most of the sources and contacts with whom I converse believe Windows 8 to be very close to the finish line, it's still somewhat interesting that no one from Microsoft has offered any substantial guidance here.
Microsoft execs said in September last year that there would be one public developer test build of Windows 8 (which came to be known as the Developer Preview), one public "beta" (the Consumer Preview) and one public Release Candidate (the Release Preview). Officials also have said that we Microsoft-watching-obsessed should not assume that Windows 8 will follow the same cadence as Windows 7 did, in terms of time that elapses between builds, etc.
There have been and continue to be additional private builds of Windows 8 that go to a select few outside the company. But after the Release Candidate -- which Microsoft made available at the end of May 2012 -- there are no more public test builds of Windows 8 scheduled before the product is released to manufacturing (RTM).
Once Microsoft RTMs Windows 8, then the product goes to PC makers (which, as of last week, now also includes Microsoft itself). The PC makers do testing, finish any kind of compatibility work they need to achieve and preload images the operating system on new PCs.
Then, Microsoft -- at least in the past -- has tried to corral all its partners to deliver new PCs with the latest operating system at a common, given date. The rumored and still officially unconfirmed date for the Windows 8 "launch"/general availability is October 2012. This launch date is when Windows RT-based devices, including the ARM-based Microsoft Surface, are slated (no pun intended) to debut. (The Intel-based Surface will be available three months after Windows 8's general-availability date, Microsoft officials said last week.)
Meanwhile, the rumored and still officially unconfirmed date for Windows 8's RTM is late July. I've been hearing this date for a couple months now. Other sites are reporting that they are hearing the same, with some saying Windows 8 RTM could happen around the time of the Microsoft annual internal sales conference (which also is when Microsoft Q4 FY 2012 earnings are announced).
Just today, one of my contacts told me that even though some Microsoft watchers are reporting that the RTM Windows 8 build is "done," it's really not. The Windows team did "fork" Windows 8 today, this source claimed. But that doesn't mean the latest build shared today is the final build. There's still more work to do before Windows 8 goes gold and RTM is "declared," this contact said.
One other insider-baseball thing to note: Whenever Microsoft announces Windows 8 has RTM'd, the code may actually have been "done" and left unchanged for a matter of weeks. Best I can tell, the RTM "announce" is supposedly within a month, if sources can be believed. This makes a lot of sense given the rest of the rumored Windows 8 launch timeline (and Microsoft employees' propensity to disappear for much of the August vacation month).
Update: As the @BuildWindows8 account on Twitter reminded everyone today, the official guidance here is on May 31, Microsoft execs said to expect Microsoft to enter the "final phases" of the RTM process "in about two months." That's assuming all is seen as progressing well by Microsoft and its partners.
This item first appeared on ZDNet's All About Microsoft blog under the headline "How close is Windows 8 to being 'done'?."