Microsoft today announced that it's wrapped up Windows 8 and declared that the operating system has met the "release to manufacturing" (RTM) milestone.
"A short while ago we started releasing Windows 8 to PC OEM and manufacturing partners," said Stephen Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft's Windows group, in a blog post Wednesday.
"Kudos to them for managing the process," said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "It's an important milestone, so congratulations. But it's just the first step."
As Cherry noted, RTM is a major mark in Microsoft's development process. It signals that the completed code is ready to send to computer makers, other hardware partners who need to test their device drivers and software, and to outside developers working on compatible programs.
The news was not unexpected: Two weeks ago when Microsoft announced Windows 8's on-sale date as Oct. 26, it said that it would reach RTM the first week of August.
Some users will have access to the Windows 8 final code months before October. Developers and IT professionals who subscribe to MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) will be able to download the new operating system starting Aug. 15. TechNet subscribers can download a trial of Windows 8 RTM that same day.
Enterprises with current Software Assurance licensing plans in place -- Software Assurance is essentially an annuity that gives companies the right to run any version of a product -- will be able to grab Windows 8 starting Aug. 16, as will members of the Microsoft Partner Network.
Firms with volume licensing deals but no Software Assurance can purchase the new OS beginning Sept. 1.
Others, including consumers who have installed the Windows 8 Release Preview, will have to wait. The preview expires Jan. 15, 2013.
Oct. 26 also marks the start of the $39.99 Windows 8 Pro upgrade offer for customers with PCs running Windows 7, Vista or Windows XP, as well as when people who purchased a new Windows 7 PC between June 2, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, can acquire Windows 8 Pro for $14.99.
Microsoft will also launch the first of its own tablets, the Windows RT-equipped Surface, on Oct. 26.
Among the details still missing about Windows 8 is the price of the operating system. Microsoft has not revealed pricing for "System Builder," the license required for home-built PCs and Macs adding a new virtual machine running Windows 8.
OEMs will have 10 fewer days to get Windows 8 on new hardware than they did three years ago when Windows 7 reached RTM on July 22, 2009. Windows 7 hit retail on Oct. 25 of that year.
Beginning Aug. 15, when MSDN and TechNet subscribers can get their hands on Windows 8 RTM, developers will be able to upload their apps to the Windows Store, Microsoft's electronic market for Metro-style software that will run on both Windows 8 and its offshoot, Windows RT.