Windows 8 Hits RTM, Will Become Available to Partners Aug. 16
Windows 8 hit the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) stage on Wednesday, meaning bits of the operating system are now finalized and ready for Microsoft equipment manufacturers to start imaging the OS onto new hardware, including PCs and tablets.
The RTM milestone also means that developers soon will have the first complete build of the OS (known as "build 9200") to finalize their applications.
The soonest equipment makers can release new Windows 8 machines will be on the "general availability" date, which Microsoft has indicated will happen on Oct. 26. Equipment makers and designers also have access to the code for Windows RT, otherwise knows as "Windows on ARM" -- a new processor platform for Microsoft's flagship operating system that will open up the tablet market running Windows 8.
Microsoft is only distributing the Windows RT OS to equipment makers. Unlike the x86/x64 version of Windows 8, which will be available in retail outlets, Windows RT won't be sold as a separate product to the general public. They can only get Windows RT by buying products preloaded with the OS.
"Windows RT is only available on new ARM-based tablets," a Microsoft spokesperson explained via e-mail. "While RTM code has been provided to OEMs for Windows 8 editions and Windows RT for ARM devices, it is up to the OEMs on when these devices will be available for consumers and we don't comment on our partners' activities. They just can't ship devices running Windows 8 until Oct. 26."
The spokesperson added that Microsoft expects to ship its own Surface PCs running Windows RT on October 26.
"We expect Windows RT devices to be available by the time Windows 8 is generally available, including our own Surface RT tablet."
Microsoft previously announced that the x86 version of Surface, known as "Surface for Windows 8 Pro," would ship 90 days after the Windows RT version of Surface. That suggests that Surface for Windows 8 Pro will become available sometime in January.
Microsoft recently acknowledged in its 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that competing with its hardware partners by building its own Surface PCs represents a potential for upsetting its hardware partner community, and consequently offers up some financial risk for the company should its partners move off the Windows platform. Microsoft reportedly kept its Surface plans largely hidden from its OEM partners when it unveiled the product in June.
Original equipment manufacturers that have announced forthcoming Windows 8 products include Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba, based on the June Computex announcements. The showcase model distributed by Microsoft to various Windows 8 testers and the press has been the Samsung Series 7 tablet running with an Intel x86 Core i5 processor, so it's expected Samsung will roll out Windows 8 products too.
Windows 8 RTM Availability Dates
While the RTM happens today, various stakeholders working with the Windows 8 platform will be able to access the new OS bits on specific dates.
IT pros and developers subscribing to Microsoft's TechNet and MSDN membership services will be able to get their hands on the Windows 8 RTM version on Aug. 15.
Windows customers with Software Assurance annuity coverage (which assures upgrade privileges to the next version) will be able to download Windows 8 through Microsoft's volume license service center on Aug. 16. Windows volume license customers without Software Assurance will be able to buy Windows 8 via Microsoft's volume license resellers on Sept. 1.
Microsoft's partners will be able to download Windows 8 RTM on Aug. 16, while Microsoft action pack providers have access to it on Aug. 20. The Microsoft action pack is a bundle of Microsoft software typically used by independent software vendors or others learning Microsoft software technology.
All of those dates are listed in this Microsoft blog, which promised more to come. For instance, education edition availability of the Windows 8 RTM isn't listed.
Windows Store Open for Business
Microsoft also opened up its Windows Store for account registration by "qualifying businesses" and paid apps, according to a Microsoft blog post. The registration takes some time because Microsoft has a verification process. Technically speaking, developers that are MSDN subscribers don't have access to the Windows 8 RTM build until August 15, but Microsoft's blog states that "until then, keep building your apps using the Release Preview," which is the prior beta release.
For individuals wanting to submit apps to the Windows Store, Microsoft plans to deliver more information later. The Windows Store has a verification process for developers submitting apps, which have to meet Microsoft's security and other criteria (such as privacy, adult content rating, etc.) to be accepted.
Microsoft indicated that Windows Store is becoming more accessible globally. Today, it was opened up to 54 new markets and made available in 24 new languages (language availability has risen to 38 languages total). Developers, though, only have a choice of 11 languages when using Microsoft's "developer dashboard" to submit apps to the Windows Store.
Microsoft had offered Windows Store apps for free during the developer preview release of Windows 8, but that is beginning to change.
"At RTM, the Windows Store turns on its commerce engine, allowing developers to begin earning money for their apps," the Microsoft spokesperson explained. "While all apps during the preview phases were free, at RTM developers can begin charging for apps, so those with access to RTM bits will begin to see paid apps appear in the Windows Store."
Windows Store is Microsoft's repository for users wanting to get Metro-style apps for Windows 8 devices. Microsoft charges developers 30 percent of revenues for transactions through the Windows Store. That rate drops to 20 percent for apps achieving $25,000 in total revenue.
IT pros getting Windows 8 apps from the Windows Store can do so, but the apps have to be signed with a certificate. It's also possible to get apps outside the Windows Store through a process that Microsoft calls "sideloading."