Microsoft confirmed today that Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 have been released to manufacturers.
That step is the last major milestone before general availability to the public. Reports had already been circulating that that milestone had been reached last week.
Windows 8.1 will be available to the public, as well as to developers and IT professionals who subscribe to MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and TechNet, on Oct. 18.
This is a change from the past, when various versions of upcoming operating systems have been available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers on the same day that it’s been released to hardware manufacturers. Also, Microsoft’s language — that it has “started releasing” Windows 8.1 to its hardware partners — is different.
Microsoft addressed, but didn’t really explain, this change in a blog post in which it said:
In the past, the release to manufacturing (RTM) milestone traditionally meant that the software was ready for broader customer use. 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. We’ve had to work closer to our hardware partners than ever before. Reaching this milestone is about optimizing the overall experience for our customers.
We’ve asked Microsoft for more details on this. The company said:
Microsoft is moving to a world of more continuous updates delivered in-product. This rapid release schedule means our customers, including our large community of developers, are getting access to updates at a much faster pace. We are working to streamline that experience by delivering product updates through the Windows Store. For developers who want to begin building and testing apps for Windows 8.1, they already have all the tools they need using Visual Studio 2013 Preview and Windows 8.1 Preview.
Windows 8.1 is a major update with some features designed to address several of the major criticisms of the Windows 8. The update will allow users to boot directly to desktop mode, instead of going through the tiled Start screen, and bring back a version of the Start button. It also will have a Smart Search feature that allows users to search their local and cloud files, apps and the Web all at once.