28 August 2013

Microsoft confirms Windows 8.1 RTM, but expect a large bug-fixing patch on release

Microsoft has confirmed that the final build of Windows 8.1 has been released to manufacturing (RTM), ready for the October 18 release of dozens of Windows 8.1-powered laptops, desktops, and tablets. Historically, the RTM is released to OEMs when the operating system is completely finished - for Windows 8.1, though, Microsoft has redefined the phrase to mean “it’s still buggy and unfinished, but we need to give it to our OEMs otherwise we’ll fall behind schedule.” As a result, MSDN and TechNet subscribers - developers, IT admins, and enthusiasts - will not get access to Windows 8.1 until it’s released to consumers. This will come as a deeply worrying shock to developers, who are now hamstrung in their development of apps that take advantage of Windows 8.1′s new features.

Writing on Blogging Windows, Microsoft’s Antoine Leblond explains that Windows 8.1 isn’t being released to developers because “times have changed.” He euphemistically goes on to add, “We will continue to work closely with them as we put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1 to ensure a quality experience at general availability.” In other words, Windows 8.1 RTM - despite the RTM historically being the final, polished build - isn’t ready for public consumption. It either has some serious bugs that prevent it from being used as a daily driver, or a lot of niggling issues that still need to be buffed out. This means that you will probably be downloading quite a large patch for Windows 8.1 on October 18, to bring the RTM up to snuff.

Windows 8.1′s new All Apps view - an olive branch to Windows 7 users who miss their Start menu

This is an odd and potentially devastating move from Microsoft. The Windows 8.1 RTM was obviously released before it was ready, probably because Microsoft and its OEMs had a very exact target to meet, to ensure the readiness of the October 18 launch devices. On the other hand, though, by depriving developers of access, it will be hard to build apps that target new features present in Windows 8.1. It will also affect enthusiasts and IT types, who would like to get their hands on Windows 8.1 as soon as possible. If you’re one of the handful of people writing books about Windows 8.1, you’re also out of luck. In short, this is a very bad move for a company who is trying to drive increased adoption of its new OS.

Microsoft is obviously between a rock and a hard place. After decades of multi-year release cycles, it decided to shift to a yearly cycle with Windows 8.1 - and, put simply, Microsoft promptly discovered that you can only squeeze so much into 12 months. I doubt that Microsoft intended for the RTM to be more of an ARFM (almost ready for manufacturing), but that’s software development for you. Changing your release cycle, especially when you’re one of the world’s largest software engineering teams in one of the world’s largest companies, isn’t easy.

Windows 8.1, if you’re not up to speed, is a fairly major revision to Windows 8. The focus of the update is the Metro side of things, with a lot of new features targeted at touchscreen users, such as an improved Metro Control Panel and better split-screening. The Desktop side of Windows 8.1 remains virtually unchanged, except for the ability to boot straight to the Desktop and disable the hot corners.

Now read: How to optimise hardware for Windows 8


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