Microsoft relents, gives devs early access to Windows 8.1

Jared Newman

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Microsoft said Monday that it would provide early access to the release version of Windows 8 today, via its MSDN and TechNet services, reversing a previously-held stance that had angered developers.

Microsoft's decision was revealed Monday in a blog post, together with the disclosure that the Windows 8.1 bits would be accompanied by tools designed to spur app development.  The current Windows 8.1 Enterprise RTM build will be available through MSDN and TechNet for businesses "later this month". Microsoft will make the Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1 Pro, and Window Server 2012 R2 builds available, Microsoft said.

The Visual Studio 2013 Release Candidate is also live, Microsoft said, and can be downloaded from this site.

"We heard from you that our decision to not initially release Windows 8.1 or Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM bits was a big challenge for our developer partners as they’re readying new Windows 8.1 apps and for IT professionals who are preparing for Windows 8.1 deployments," Microsoft chief evangelist Steve Guggenheimer wrote. "We’ve listened, we value your partnership, and we are adjusting based on your feedback. As we refine our delivery schedules for a more rapid release cadence, we are working on the best way to support early releases to the various audiences within our ecosystem.

Microsoft had previously revealed that Windows 8.1 would roll out to consumers on the morning of Oct. 17, with a retail launch a day later. Late in August, Microsoft began shipping the final version of Windows 8.1 to OEM customers. But the release was accompanied by howls of outrage by developers who would have been forced to wait for the October launch date, the same as consumers.

In short, that would have meant almost no time for developers to ensure that their applications ran properly under Windows 8.1. Historically, developers have had weeks or months to perform their testing, a practice Microsoft's release schedule would have broken. “Most of us actually want to support Windows 8.1, a lot of us want to get apps ready for the awesome 8.1 features, but we can’t properly do that unless we get the RTM bits before the public gets the Windows 8.1 update," one developer wrote in comments attached to the original Microsoft announcement.

But Microsoft undoubtedly sat back, examined the relatively small number of Windows apps (about 115,000, according to MetroStore Scanner) and decided that they needed every one.

For those who have subscribed to the TechNet service, the Windows 8.1 bits will be one of its last hurrahs. In July, Microsoft said that it would phase out the $199 service, and replace it with a new TechNet Evaluation Center offering free evaluation software for limited periods of 90 to 180 days.  Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscriptions for software developers start at $699 per year.

If you're not a TechNet or MSDN subscriber, you can still try out Windows 8.1, via PCWorld's guide to installing the Windows 8.1 preview, before October rolls around. Microsoft is also releasing new Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, and the latest update to Windows Intune.  

This story was updated at 10:09 AM with additional details from Microsoft and to clarify when the Windows 8.1 software will be released.

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