Few people were thrilled when Microsoft announced last month that it had finalised the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) code for Windows 8.1 but wouldn't give it to anyone except hardware manufacturers before 18 October. Now Microsoft has reversed that unpopular decision, allowing TechNet and MSDN subscribers to download the RTM version immediately. That's mostly good news, but there are still some challenges for developers despite the release candidate for Visual Studio 2013 also being made available.
Microsoft explained the reversal of policy in a blog post by corporate vice president Steve Guggenheimer:
We heard from you that our decision to not initially release Windows 8.1 or Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM bits was a big challenge for our developer partners as they're readying new Windows 8.1 apps and for IT professionals who are preparing for Windows 8.1 deployments. We've listened, we value your partnership, and we are adjusting based on your feedback. As we refine our delivery schedules for a more rapid release cadence, we are working on the best way to support early releases to the various audiences within our ecosystem.
Apparently, Microsoft's previous argument that delaying the code release would ensure that server users in particular would experience a seamless upgrade hasn't held water. We've noted recently that the sped-up release cycle for Windows poses challenges for server deployments, but it seems more people want the code early rather than later in this instance. Given that we know there will be changes to the RTM code already shipped to hardware vendors prior to October, that makes sense.
Visual Studio 2013 Release Candidate has also been made available for download. While this would appear to mark a push by Microsoft to ensure apps are updated for Windows 8.1, Guggenheimer points out that apps can't actually be finalised and uploaded to the Windows Store until general availability (GA) on 18 October, and that changes may be required right up until that date:
Third party apps may require final refinement to onboard into the Windows Store at the October 18 GA milestone. However, we're confident this pre-release will enable developers to ready their Windows 8.1 apps for customers while validating their existing apps function as expected on Windows 8.1.
It's good news that developers and IT pros won't be forced to wait artificially for the final code (and that there is some value to be had out of TechNet before it disappears altogether). That said, it's also a reminder that predictability in release cycles has all but evaporated. Maintaining compatibility is now a much more fiddly task.
Download Windows 8.1 RTM, Visual Studio 2013 RC and Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM Today [The Official Microsoft Blog]