Windows 8.1 released to manufacturers, but not developers

RTM build with ‘hardware partners’, but TechNet and MSDN subscribers wait until October 18

Microsoft has released the “significant update” of its Windows 8 operating system, Windows 8.1, to its manufacturing and hardware partners, to be integrated into upcoming products, today. Developers and IT professionals are being left in the lurch, though, with the availability of the overhauled OS on Microsoft’s TechNet and MSDN developer channels delayed until the same day as the general public release.

In the ‘Readying Windows 8.1 For Release’ post on the official Windows Blog, Microsoft senior VP Antoine Leblond, responsible for the Windows Web Services team, explains that the release process has been a quick one, out of step with Microsoft tradition. “In many ways, this marks a new day at Microsoft, reflecting a number of rapid release firsts.

”In the past, the release to manufacturing (RTM) milestone traditionally meant that the software was ready for broader customer use. However, it’s clear that times have changed”

“We have delivered in a very short time an update to the OS that will bring an even greater unified experience for our customers. As we consider the code we just handed off... we’re confident we made the right bet.”

Although the RTM build code, which in previous Windows releases has been considered stable enough to be used by consumers, will be available to hardware partners “”to prepare the wide array of innovative devices our customers can expect later this fall - just in time for the holidays", Microsoft will not be making it available to developers or systems integrators.

The company’s reasoning for this is convoluted. The blog posts states that “in the past, the release to manufacturing (RTM) milestone traditionally meant that the software was ready for broader customer use. However, it’s clear that times have changed”, listing mobility and touch compatibility, as well as users’ blurred work and personal boundaries, as shifts that have influenced the changed release process. No concrete details for the delay are shared.

Reading between the lines, it would seem that Microsoft’s RTM build of Windows 8.1 is less feature-complete than previous RTM builds, such as those of Windows 8 and Windows 7.

Windows 7 RTM was released to developers, IT professionals, volume license customers, partners and OEMs nearly simultaneously on August 6th and 7th, 2009, two months before the operating system’s consumer release on October 22nd that year. The initial release of Windows 8 RTM build code was made widely available on TechNet and MSDN on August 15th and 16th, 2012 before the October 26th launch.

Some developers are unhappy with the delay. User ‘controlz’, who made the first comment on the Windows Blog post, shared his thoughts: “ it may not be perfectly stable yet, but the RTM build is surely more stable and complete than the preview build” — a preview build of Windows 8.1 has been available since June 26. User ‘segobi’ said “Congratulations for releasing it to Technet and MSDN so late. You are losing your partners.”

Responding to another commenter, Microsoft senior marketing communications manager Brandon LeBlanc told dissenters that while the reasons were already explained within the blog post, “we are continuing to put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1 to ensure a quality experience at general availability”, suggesting that the RTM build released to manufacturers was unsuitable for developer app testing, while also pointing commenters to another Windows Blog post that suggested developers test their apps on the already-available Windows 8 Preview — which commenters criticised for its multiple bugs.

The most recent comment on the Windows 8.1 RTM blog post, by user ‘wdeguara’, clearly lays out the combined displeasure of Microsoft’s MSDN and TechNet subscribers:

“Microsoft's decision to withhold Windows 8.1 RTM to developers and volume licence customers is a significant mistake. It further discourages developers and enterprises to adopt its new operating system by introducing unnecessary delays and roadblocks to readiness activities.

The reality is that rather than encourage developers and volume licence customers to continue with their preparations to support the retail release of Windows 8.1 on October 18, the majority will now suspend their preparations and wait until they receive the RTM build before continuing. Microsoft really needs to seriously reconsider the logic of their decision.”

Screenshots of the Windows 8.1 RTM build have already emerged from China, along with a new default wallpaper.

Some quotes in this article have been edited for clarity.

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