The Die Is Cast: Windows 8 Released To Manufacturers

On the Building Windows 8 blog today, Windows 8 team lead Steven Sinofsky told readers that Windows 8 has been Released to Manufacturing (RTM). What that means is that the OS has been frozen and passed all internal certifications. Bug fixes and feature update development will continue apace, but Build 9200 is complete and apparently has been for at least a week.

Here's what happens next. Availability to those with MSDN and TechNet subscriptions will start on August 15 while those with Microsoft Software Assurance licenses will be able to download the enterprise version of the product starting August 16. On September 1, Volume License customers will be able to buy it. At some point, it'll leak to pirate sites and world+dog, and then, on October 26, you'll be able to buy it in stores or purchase a $39.95 upgrade.

Buy a new PC between now and Oct 26, and you'll get a coupon for a $14.95 upgrade kit.

It's actually a little bit exciting.

Alea iacta est

It's possible to be excited about Windows 8 without predicting that the OS will be popular. Innovation and financial success are indifferent friends at best. Steve Jobs' NeXTSTEP operating system was widely praised and very innovative; it was used by the people who were building everything from the World Wide Web to Wolf 3D and Doom. Commercial success? Not so much. Oftentimes, the innovative elements of a failed project are extracted and nursed along until, over the long run, a better product emerges.

Now think back a moment -- when was the last time Microsoft did anything different? Vista was a radical and necessary overhaul of the OS underpinnings, but its UI didn't actually change much. Windows 7, even in Aero, would be recognizeable to someone who stepped into a time warp circa 1996. In some cases, the basic windows and dialog boxes haven't changed at all.

Windows 8 is the first new core product since Windows 95. No, nerds won't be lined up to buy it outside computer stores this time around, but it's exciting to see Microsoft taking chances and working on new material. If Metro does work, it'll put Redmond back at the forefront of design and UI evolution in a way the company hasn't been since NT 4.0 was a hot new product.

It's a lot of other things, too. Ballmer's chance of remaining CEO or not will hang on it. The team behind Microsoft Surface is betting on it. Companies like Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Samsung are betting on it, too. It's not just the regular list of OEMs that have a vested interest in seeing Windows 8 succeed, it's the usual players, everyone who wants to move into the x86 tablet market, and the group of ARM licensees who want to push into netbooks and low-cost notebooks.

What happens in the next 12 months will have repercussions across the entire computing industry. It could boost Windows Phone's visibility or further tarnish the operating system's chances of gaining market share. There are high stakes, and Microsoft is actually playing a hand instead of sitting on the sidelines.