Redmond's new operating system hit the RTM stage on Wednesday and will soon be available to developers and IT departments. Everyone else must wait until October 26.
Windows 8 Preview: Key Features
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Microsoft on Wednesday said it has completed work on Windows 8 and released the operating system to hardware makers, who this fall will introduce a range of new tablets, PCs, and laptops that will run the touch-centric operating system.
"Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing (RTM)!" said Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc, in a blog post. "That means we've completed the product development and testing of the product and have started handing off the final code to our OEM partners."
Windows 8 devices will hit retail stores on October 26, but developers and IT organizations won't have to wait that long to get their hands on the code. Developers can download the final version of Windows 8 through their MSDN subscriptions starting August 15. IT departments with Software Assurance for Windows can download Windows 8 Enterprise Edition through the Volume License Center beginning August 16. Volume license customers without Software Assurance can purchase Windows 8 from Volume License Resellers as of September 1.
[ Get expert guidance on Microsoft Windows 8. InformationWeek's Windows 8 Super Guide rounds up the key news, analysis, and reviews that you need. ]
Windows 8 represents the biggest redesign of Microsoft's OS franchise since Windows 95, which introduced familiar features like the Task Bar and Start Menu. The latter is gone from Windows 8, replaced by a series of icons Microsoft calls Charms, which are hidden on the right side of the home screen and pop up only when touched or moused over.
Charms control access to features like Power, Settings, Search, and Share, and will allow users of Intel-based Windows 8 devices to access the traditional Windows desktop. Windows tablets running ARM chips will only offer the new Metro interface and Metro-style apps downloaded from the Windows Store.
"Back when we first demonstrated Windows 8 in May 2011, we described it as 'reimagining Windows, from the chipset to the experience,'" said Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's group president for Windows, in his own blog post.
Sinofsky said he expects a smooth launch for Windows 8, given widespread pre-testing by developers, IT pros, and the general public through the Developer, Consumer, and Release Preview versions of the software. "Over 16 million PCs actively participated in these programs," said Sinofsky. "The depth and breadth of testing validate the readiness of Windows 8 for the market."
The new operating system will be available in only four editions: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Enterprise, and Windows 8 RT. The last is Microsoft's official name for Windows On ARM, which will run on tablet chips manufactured by Qualcomm, Motorola, and Nvidia, as well as Redmond's own Surface tablet.
By comparison, Windows 7 was available in six editions: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise.
Current users of Windows XP, Windows 7, or Windows Vista will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for just $39.99. Windows 7 PCs purchased as of June 1 can be upgraded for just $14.99. The programs run through January 31, 2013.
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