Developers have won a round in the rollout of Windows 8.1. On Monday, Microsoft announced that it would make available to developers and IT professional communities its 8.1 and 8.1 Pro Release-to-Manufacturers (RTM) builds, which it had earlier released only to manufacturers.
The builds will be made available through MSDN and TechNet subscriptions. Additionally, the company is also making available Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM and the Visual Studio 2013 Release Candidate. App development tools will also be provided, and the current Windows 8.1 Enterprise RTM build will be offered for businesses later in September.
On the MSDN blog, the company's Steve "Guggs" Guggenheimer wrote that "we heard from you that our decision to not initially release Windows 8.1 or Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM 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." He added that the company has "listened," and is "adjusting based on your feedback."
Still Being Updated
Windows 8.1 is scheduled to be released to customers on Oct. 17, and made available to retailers the next day. This version began shipping to OEMs in late August, and developers had been angry that they would not get the release version until customers did. As a result, developers would have had no time to ensure that any applications built for version 8.0 would work without problems under 8.1. There are about 115,000 version 8-specific applications out there, a growing but not a huge inventory.
One additional factor for developers and IT departments is that Microsoft has acknowledged 8.1, even though it has been released to manufacturers, is still something of a work-in-progress, with updates being released between 8.1 RTM and general availability in mid-October. The fact that 8.1 wasn't "done" was a reason given by Microsoft for not releasing it to developers, who were encouraged by the company to test their apps on Windows 8.1 Preview.
A key question, of course, is whether 8.1 is going to give Windows 8 the boost in adoption and in sales of hardware that Microsoft and hardware manufacturers are hoping for.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, told us Windows 8 should have been an update to version 7, instead of a new operating system.
She acknowledged that 8.1 will have a "quasi-Start" button, possibly alleviating one of the complaints from users about the new OS, and that there will be some new features, such as a new Help section and a revamped e-mail application. But the central question, DiDio said, is whether "people's perception about Windows 8" will be changed sufficiently by 8.1 to propel a wider acceptance, and especially whether it will propel businesses to upgrade from XP and version 7.
On that score, she said, the jury is out, but at the moment the evidence is that the perception of 8.1 will be the same as for 8. "In people's minds," DiDio said, "versions 8 and 8.1 are linked, and perception is everything."