Developers flay Microsoft for withholding Windows 8.1 RTM

Decision 'frightens me,' says one developer as Microsoft tells app makers to use two-month-old preview to test work

Windows app developers today took Microsoft to task for the company's decision to withhold Windows 8.1 until mid-October.

Traditionally, Microsoft offers an RTM, or the "release to manufacturing" build of its programs, to developers several weeks before the code reaches the general public. The early availability lets developers complete their work and testing so that their apps are available when the OS launches.

Today, however, Microsoft confirmed that although Windows 8.1 has reached the RTM milestone and been passed to computer- and tablet-making OEMs, subscribers to MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) will not get the final code until the public does on Oct. 17.

Microsoft explained that Windows 8.1 was, in fact, not finished, and used that as the reason for keeping the update out of the hands of developers and IT professionals, another group which historically has gotten early access.

"While our partners are preparing these exciting new devices, we will continue to work closely with them as we put the finishing touches on Windows 8.1," said Antoine Leblond, a Microsoft spokesman, in a Tuesday blog. "In the past, the release to manufacturing (RTM) milestone traditionally meant that the software was ready for broader customer use. However, it's clear that times have changed."

Developers raged against the decision in comments on another Microsoft blog, one that told programmers to write and test their apps against Windows 8.1 Preview, the public sneak peak that debuted two months ago.

"In an world inhabited by pink unicorns and pixie dust, the advice in this post would be sufficient," said "brianjsw," one of several commenters today. "However, we live in the real world last time I looked out the window. In the real world, developers must have access to the RTM bits before [general availability]. The fact that Microsoft no longer seems to understand this truly frightens me."

Others sang the same tune.

"Not acceptable. We're hitting performance issues with changes made to the 'listviewbase' in Preview," said "Flexman" today. "Do we code to this laggy implementation or wait for performance testing under RTM and hope everything is fixed? How is it Microsoft can develop their apps to work on RTM code yet [independent software vendors] who are supporting your platform don't get the same benefit?"

Some almost pleaded for the RTM code. "I'm not saying release it today, I'm saying Windows 8.1 RTM should be released to MSDN and TechNet AT LEAST by September 15," said "slaythoven."

During the run-up to the public launch of Windows 8 on Oct. 26, 2012, Microsoft slapped the RTM label on the operating system on Aug. 1 and published it on MSDN and TechNet two weeks later, on Aug. 15.

"This is a bit of a mistake," said Wes Miller, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft. "But there's an obvious reason why they're elected to hold back the code."

Miller pointed to the work-in-progress admission by Microsoft as that reason.

Even so, it wasn't ideal, Miller said. "If you're trying to endear yourself to enterprise developers, [Windows 8.1] is your service pack," he said, referring to the almost-defunct Microsoft practice of collecting previous bug fixes into a single download collection. "They need to be kicking tires so that they can start writing apps for their businesses."

While Microsoft's goal of creating a solid update was commendable, Miller said, denying developers Windows 8.1 RTM means that there will be few if any Windows 8.1-optimized apps in the Windows Store on the October launch date.

"It's all about the apps," Miller said, repeating his earlier position that the app ecosystem is critical to Windows 8's, and now Windows 8.1's, success. "You can't make 8.1 apps unless you have the final code."

"Why, out of the clear blue, have you decided to not release early to MSDN?" asked slaythoven. "Bug fixes and continual code updates aren't a good enough reason due to the fact that there's an excellent tool at delivering those bits, named Windows Update."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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