Microsoft puts Windows 8.1 in PC and tablet makers' hands. But according to Forrester analyst, there might not be many customers waiting.
10 Hidden Benefits of Windows 8.1
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Microsoft confirmed Tuesday that it has begun releasing Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 to hardware partners, signaling the company's final dash toward the OS update's October 18 release.
Thanks to customer feedback and "an unparalleled level of collaboration across product teams," Windows 8.1 has reached the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) stage "in a very short time," said Antoine Leblond, Microsoft's corporate VP of Windows Program Management, in a statement. He noted that the upgrade will reach OEMs only 10 months after Windows 8 launched, adding that manufacturers will soon offer new Windows devices that range from "the smallest tablets to the most lightweight notebooks to versatile 2-in-1s, as well as industry devices designed for business."
Leblond's tone is notable in that it echoes so many of the strategic points outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer has made throughout the last year: Windows must offer a unified experience that spans devices, Microsoft is establishing a more collaborative culture to facilitate this goal, trends toward consumerization and mobility mean Windows updates will have to arrive much more rapidly than in the past, and so on.
At least for now, though, Microsoft appears to be staying the course. The rhetoric the company used in July when Windows 8.1 was released as a public preview is essentially the same that Leblond used on Monday, despite all the financial and organizational changes that have occurred in the interim.
"Windows 8.1 has not impressed anyone that I've spoken with," he said in an interview on Monday. Johnson stated that enterprise users want a Start menu that functions like the one in Windows 7, not Windows 8.1's ersatz version, which redirects to an "All Apps" view.
Johnson said that Microsoft hasn't submitted to this demand because doing so would conflict with the company's desire to usher users toward the Modern UI, which plays a central role in both the company's mobility strategy and Steve Ballmer's larger "one Microsoft" vision.
At least a few people are eager to get their hands on Windows 8.1, however. Last year, the company released Windows 8 early to qualifying IT professionals. This time it is withholding Windows 8.1 from everyone except OEMs until release. In a comments thread following Leblond's statement, some commenters voiced their disapproval with the decision, arguing that Microsoft is neglecting its base of IT pros and that TechNet and MSDN subscribers should have early access for testing, as they have in the past.
Leblond replied in the comments that Microsoft isn't releasing Windows 8.1 early because it is continuing to "put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1."