Microsoft on Tuesday confirmed that Windows 8.1 had reached the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) milestone, a phase in development in which the product in question is typically considered complete. But the firm also confirmed my report that it would continue updating Windows 8.1 between RTM and general availability (GA), and for this reason it is not providing early access to the "complete" RTM bits.
"Just 10 months after delivering on a bold, generational change in computing with Windows 8, our team is proud to share that we have started releasing Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 to our hardware partners," Microsoft corporate vice president Antoine Leblond wrote in a post to Blogging Windows. "Windows 8.1 is a significant update. We have delivered in a very short time an update to the OS that will bring an even greater unified experience for our customers."
I previously revealed that Microsoft had RTM'd Windows 8.1 while the team was signing off on the code on Friday in a series of tweets on Twitter. But in Microsoft Finalizes Windows 8.1 Development, I noted further that Microsoft would use the time between RTM and GA to continue testing Windows 8.1 in anticipation of releasing a set of interim fixes, called Quick Fix Engineering (QFE) updates, to PC and hardware makers.
Leblond confirmed this report.
"While our partners are preparing exciting new devices, we will continue to work closely with them as we put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1 to ensure a quality experience at general availability on October 18th," he says. "This is the date when Windows 8.1 will be broadly available for commercial customers with or without volume licensing agreements, our broad partner ecosystem, subscribers to MSDN and TechNet, as well as consumers."
And yes, you read that right: In an unprecedented move, Windows 8.1 will not be made available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers—or anyone else—before GA. This was first reported a full two weeks ago by Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, who noted that Microsoft almost immediately made Windows 8 available to these subscribers when that OS RTM'd a year ago.
Leblond's explanation for the release delays between RTM and GA make sense on the, ahem, surface—it is indeed true that "times have changed" as he notes—but falls apart under scrutiny. When you deliver software to customers as if it were a service, that means you're not bound by past methods of deployment and distribution. When software is complete, you should deliver it to those that want it immediately. Try to imagine Google finishing a version of its Chrome web browser—or better yet, Chrome OS—and then telling customers about it and then literally withholding it from them. For two full months.
Furthermore, the "Metro" environment that sits at the heart of the controversy that is Windows 8/RT is objectively a failure with both developers and users. Why would the firm withhold this new version of the software from the few developers that are actively supporting the platform? This is just another reason for developers to focus their efforts over the next two months on popular platforms like iOS, Android, and the web, and do so as we head into the critical holiday selling period of the worst year for Windows in over 20 years.
For all of the talk about doing things differently, Microsoft has seemingly forgotten the importance of its relationship with those who really matter to the platform. And by alienating them in this way, they will make an already ambiguous and tense situation worse. It's not just avoidable, it's illogical and pointless.