Microsoft finally confirmed on Tuesday that Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 has shipped off to partners, AKA RTM, indicating that the company is on track to deliver the updated platform in October. The company also admitted that it's breaking tradition by withholding the golden RTM bits until the actual October 18 release date. Prior to Windows 8.1, Microsoft typically released the bits early to MSDN, TechNet and its volume-license customers.
"In the past, the release to manufacturing (RTM) milestone traditionally meant that the software was ready for broader customer use," the company said. "However, it’s clear that times have changed, with shifts to greater mobility and touch as well as the blurring of work and personal lives. As such, we’ve had to evolve the way we develop and the time in which we deliver to meet customers with the experience they need, want and expect."
ZDnet points out – as does Microsoft actually – that RTM doesn't mean what it used to. For starters, Microsoft has seemingly switched over to a ten-month development mode, and will continuously "evolve" the platform with patches and additional improvements. Secondly, Windows 8.1 technically went RTM on Friday, August 23: it reached a point where the team decided it was good enough for OEMs. Microsoft didn't mention this in Tuesday's announcement, but rather said that the updated OS is now being served up to device partners only. Everyone else gets Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 on October 18.
"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," the company stated.
This also means developers won't have access to the new Windows 8.1 bits until then either. Microsoft hinted to this during BUILD 2013 earlier this year, telling developers that if they want to take advantage of the new features provided in the update, they would need to rely on Visual Studio 2013 preview and the Windows 8.1 consumer preview to update their apps prior to the October 18 launch.
"While apps built for Windows 8 still run on Windows 8.1, you’ll need to migrate your apps to take advantage of all these new features and give your customers the experience they’ll expect when Windows 8.1 is available," the company said. "We’ve tried to make the migration experience as straightforward as possible for you. Depending on the features your app supports, you might need to make some additional API and functionality changes to your apps."
Microsoft's decision to refrain from producing the RTM build early will likely push many Windows 8 users into downloading RTM builds that are already trickling onto the internet ahead of the official launch. Naturally Microsoft suggests that customers either install the current Windows 8.1 preview build, or wait for the official bits in October. There's no telling what extra "goodies" will be packed inside these leaks.
Currently Microsoft has not provided pricing for Windows 8.1. The update will reportedly be free for current Windows 8 customers, but it's unknown how much it will cost for Windows 7 users and older. There's a good chance Microsoft will re-introduce the $40 upgrade promotion for these customers until sometime in mid-January 2014.