Microsoft announced yesterday that the so-called Release Preview version of Windows 8 would ship in early June, about three months after the previous and delayed milestone, the Consumer Preview. With this schedule, Microsoft is implicitly revealing that it is back on schedule and will deliver Windows 8 in time for the holiday season.
But it’s also finalizing a “reimagining,” if you will, of how pre-release milestones of its flagship OS are branded.
Microsoft President Steven Sinofsky made the announcement about the Windows 8 Release Preview while in Japan for a Developer Days event. He said that the next major milestone of Windows 8 would ship “in the first week of June.” That’s about one week before Microsoft’s next major conference, TechEd 2012, which happens June 11-14 in Orlando, Florida.
The naming of this milestone isn’t coincidental. With past releases of Windows, Microsoft typically stuck to a very traditional naming strategy for its external milestones, with one or more beta releases followed by a release candidate (RC) and then the final, or release to manufacturing (RTM) version.
The Windows 8 schedule is different. Microsoft delivered a pre-beta “Developer Preview” in September 2011, with the name of that milestone telegraphing its intended audience. Similarly, the actual beta release was renamed to Consumer Preview to provide a clearer idea about that release’s audience. And with the RC version being renamed to Release Preview, well, the message is equally clear: This version will literally provide a preview of the release, or RTM, version of Windows 8. It is a feature-complete look at Microsoft’s next desktop OS.
Looking at the schedule, it’s fair to say that Windows 8 is also back on track after a longer-than-expected delta between the Developer and Consumer Previews. With Windows 7, Microsoft delivered the beta version about three months after that product’s pre-beta milestone. But Windows 8 took five months to get to the same level of readiness. This shouldn’t be surprising: Windows 8 is the most dramatic upgrade to Windows in the history of the product line, bigger than Windows 95 or the switch to the Windows NT codebase with Windows XP. What is surprising, instead, is how little time the company is taking to get from the Beta/Consumer Preview version to RC/Release Preview: just three months.
This says a lot, I think, about where Windows 8 is, from both quality and readiness perspectives. And it should silence any talk about delays past the end of 2012. Instead, it’s looking as if Microsoft will now release Windows 8 to manufacturing in August or September (at the latest) and deliver the product publicly by October 2012, exactly three years after it did so with Windows 7.