Windows 8 RTM is available to developers as of Wednesday through their MSDN subscriptions, and IT departments with Software Assurance for Windows can download Windows 8 Enterprise Edition through their Volume License Center beginning Thursday. Volume license customers without Software Assurance can purchase Windows 8 from Volume License Resellers as of Sept. 1.
Most of these customers, as well many consumers, have been working with the Windows 8 Release Preview, which debuted in May. The fact is, Windows 8 RTM is nearly identical to Win8 RP, but there are some noteworthy changes--most of them cosmetic.
1. Tattoos. Given that tattoos are no longer limited to bikers and prison inmates, it's not surprising that computers should get them, too. With Windows 8 RTM, Microsoft has added an option that allows users to decorate their Start screen with a number of designs, ranging from simple to psychedelic.
2. New desktop backgrounds. Microsoft also increased the fairly limited number of background screens for the desktop that were available in Windows 8 RP. There are now as many as 14. There's also a new lock screen that sports an image of the Space Needle in Seattle, Microsoft's home turf.
3. Apps for sale. For some users, this could be subtraction by addition. Windows 8 RP offered more than 100 apps, all of them free to use. With Windows 8 now in final production, the giveaways have ended. There are still some free apps, but developers can now charge anywhere from $1.49 to $999 for their digital wares in the Windows Store.
4. Bing. Windows 8 now offers a Bing app that follows the Live Tiles format for displaying search results. While typing, an autocomplete function churns out tiles that link to content it thinks the user might be searching for.
5. Enhanced People app. One of the default apps on the Windows 8 Start Screen is the People app. The version on Windows 8 RTM lets users corral contacts and messages from various networking sources, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, onto a single page. There's also a new page called What's New?, which features the latest updates from contacts.
6. Less space waste. Windows 8 RTM improves use of screen real estate compared to the Release Preview. The latter used tiny, square icons to represent some applications, such as those for Office, and spacing between them was inconsistent. With Windows 8 RTM, app spacing is more uniform and icons are more tightly packed together, allowing users to see more of what's on their Start screen without having to scroll.
7. Faster, smoother performance. Microsoft said it has made a number of changes under the hood with Windows 8 RTM that, taken together, are responsible for a user experience that is faster and more fluid overall than the pre-release version, which is to be expected.
8. Aero is gone. Really. Microsoft has been threatening to break its Aero glass interface ever since it debuted on the wildly unpopular Windows Vista. But the feature, which adds a spacey, translucent look to the desktop, survived the arrival of Windows 7 and made it all the way through to Windows 8 Release Preview. With Windows 8 RTM, it's gone, replaced by a desktop that, in keeping with Microsoft's Modern (formerly known as Metro) look, is clean and spare.
In addition to IT pros, consumers can also now download Windows 8 RTM and try it free for 90 days. The official retail launch is scheduled for Oct. 26, with a range of systems expected to be on sale from vendors such as Lenovo, Asus, and Dell. Microsoft's own Surface tablet also will hit store shelves on that date.
Writing apps is expensive and complex. Cross-platform tools can help, but they're far from perfect. Also in the new, all-digital Develop Once, Run Everywhere? issue of InformationWeek: Why the cloud will become a more accepted development environment. (Free with registration.)