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Windows 8 takes big RTM step toward consumers

Microsoft's Windows 8 development is done, and the OS is off to PC makers. Some users will be able to get the final bits within days. Also RTM'd: Windows Server 2012, Visual Studio 2012, and IE10.

Windows 8 Release Preview with trackpad
Here's a view of the Windows 8 Release Preview from March. In a long-overdue step forward for Windows, that version showed off prototype trackpad drivers to let people to use multitouch gestures on their trackpads.
Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Microsoft announced today that Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing (RTM'd). (The final build number is 9200.)

At the same time, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 10, Windows Server 2012 and Visual Studio 2012 also have reached the RTM milestone, given all of these products have been developed in lockstep with Windows 8. (I am not 100 percent sure if Windows RT also RTM'd simultaneously and do not believe Microsoft officials ever promised this would be the case.)

Microsoft officials said earlier this month to expect Windows 8 to RTM in the first week of August. (I modified this wording in my coverage to "by the first week of August," knowing the propensity of Windows execs to pad their dates a bit in order to never be late.) As those same execs also noted previously, Windows 8 will be generally available via retail and preloaded on new PCs and tablets on October 26.

However, some will be able to get their hands on the Windows 8 RTM bits a lot sooner. MSDN and TechNet subscribers get the bits on August 15. Volume licenses with Software Assurance will get it on August 16; volume licensees without SA will get the bits September 1, according to a Windows Team blog post today.

Last week, Microsoft went public with details about its next big Windows developer conference. Build 2012 will be held October 30 to November 2 in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft execs said in September 2011 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). There were additional private builds of Windows 8 that went to a select few outside the company. But after the Release Candidate -- which Microsoft made available at the end of May 2012 -- there were no more public test  builds of Windows 8 scheduled before the product is released to manufacturing (RTM). Recent private builds included a number of user interface modifications, the removal of the "Aero" glass interface, as well as some under-the-hood programming interface tweaks.

Now that Microsoft has completed work on Windows 8, the product goes to PC makers (which 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. The Microsoft Surface team is one of these OEMs and will be delivering the first of two Surface designs (the Surface RT, based on an ARM processor) at the same time as Windows 8 is generally available, October 26.

What's next for Windows? Microsoft is expected by some to speed up delivery of its next operating system releases, going forward. In other words, "Windows Next" -- or whatever Microsoft calls the successor to Windows 8 -- isn't expected to be three years away. It could be a lot sooner.

This story was originally posted at ZDNet under the headline "Microsoft hits RTM milestone with Windows 8."