Microsoft today announced that both Window 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 have reached release-to-manufacturing (RTM) status and are being sent to hardware manufacturers to be bundled with new machines. However, IT pros and developers are going to have to wait in the queue with consumers until 18 October to actually access it. Why the change?
Microsoft had promised last month that RTM code would appear by the end of August, so it has just met that deadline.
In the past, once code has reached RTM status, it has typically become available to subscribers to services such as TechNet or MSDN fairly quickly, and certainly ahead of the general consumer release date. That has given pros the chance to play around with the code ahead of when it becomes more broadly available.
That isn't happening this time around. Microsoft provides its explanation on a blog post:
With previous releases, shortly after the RTM Microsoft provided access to software through our MSDN and TechNet subscriptions. Because this release was built and delivered at a much faster pace than past products, and because we want to ensure that you get the very highest quality product, we made the decision to complete the final validation phases prior to distributing the release. It is enormously important to all of us here that you have the best possible experience using R2 to build your private and hybrid cloud infrastructure.
Instead, the code will be released to MSDN and TechNet on 18 October, at the same time as it goes on sale through retail channels and on new machines.
There's a reasonable logic here for some groups of users. Windows is now patched and updated much more frequently; we're no longer hanging around six months to wait for the first service pack. It's all too likely that some essential changes to the 8.1 and 2012 R2 code base will pop up between now and 18 October. New buyers can look forward to a large chunk of patches even if they buy a brand-new box on release day.
While the OS development process has become faster, manufacturing hasn't sped up to the same extent. Microsoft needs to lock code down now for machines to come out in October, which in turn means they'll have potential for the Christmas sales cycle.
Microsoft's attitude to software subscription services has also changed. It is effectively killing off TechNet, preferring to focus on time-limited trials. Under those circumstances, cutting off early access for IT pros seems consistent, if irritating, behaviour.
Given the relatively low penetration of Windows 8 into the enterprise to date, it's also hard to argue that thousands of sites will need to upgrade to Windows 8.1 on the official release date. Indeed, balancing the demand for frequent consumer updates with the more leisurely pace typically adopted by businesses is a challenge that Microsoft has only just begun to address. Under those circumstances, not speeding up the process further isn't surprising. This is the new reality, and we'll have to get used to it.
The harder argument to make is that developers should wait that long too. Microsoft is actively pushing for developers to ensure their apps are updated to Windows 8.1, but isn't giving them access to the final code. That makes much less sense.