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Do devs and IT pros get Windows 8.1 early? Not even Microsoft knows

Conflicting statements by company reps cause confusion, and Microsoft won't clarify

August 15, 2013 03:50 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft today refused to clarify conflicting statements by its public relations representatives about whether developers and enterprise customers will obtain the Windows 8.1 update weeks before the public, as is customary.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that Windows 8.1 will be available starting Oct. 17 to current users of Windows 8. The update will be posted to the Windows Store, the official Windows 8 and Windows RT app market, and available as a free download.

Historically, subscribers to MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and TechNet -- services for developers and IT workers, respectively -- and enterprise customers who have volume license agreements have been given access to new editions and interim updates weeks and sometimes months before the masses.

MSDN and TechNet subscribers -- some who pay thousands annually for the right to evaluate Microsoft software -- use just-finished code such as Windows 8.1 to test new and existing application compatibility, and decide whether they will support the new Microsoft software with their apps and on their corporate networks.

But Microsoft has given conflicting answers to questions posed by reporters in the U.S. and the Netherlands, who have asked whether developers, IT professionals and volume license customers will have early access, or have been lumped with consumers, who must wait until Oct. 17.

On Wednesday, a U.S.-based Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment when asked by Computerworld if MSDN and TechNet subscribers would have access to Windows 8.1 between RTM (release to manufacturing), which is set for late this month, and the GA, or "general availability" date of Oct. 17.

The spokeswoman did leave the door open. "We will have more to share in the coming weeks," she said in an email.

A Microsoft spokeswoman in the Netherlands, however, gave a different answer to the same question.

Late Wednesday, Jasper Bakker of Webwereld, like Computerworld owned by IDG, asked a Microsoft Netherlands spokeswoman to clarify the situation for MSDN and TechNet subscribers, and volume customers.

In an email to Bakker, the spokeswoman said, "The availability of Windows 8.1 will take place through the store worldwide at the same moment globally. Volume Licensing (enterprise), TechNet and MSDN will all be available starting at 12:00 [a.m.] New Zealand time on October 18 (October 17 4:00 a.m. PDT). So not later than GA but simultaneously with GA."

Bakker, who translated the Microsoft Netherlands email from its original Dutch to English for Computerworld, reported earlier today that Microsoft would not make Windows 8.1 available early to MSDN, TechNet and volume customers.

When Computerworld today asked a Microsoft spokeswoman in the U.S. to square the circle, she replied, "We are not confirming either way at this time."

If Microsoft followed the same timetable as it did in 2012 with Windows 8, it would offer Windows 8.1 to MSDN and TechNet subscribers two weeks after the latter is tagged with the RTM label.

In 2012, Microsoft announced Windows 8 RTM on Aug. 1 and published the operating system on the subscription services on Aug. 15. The company also began offering a 90-day trial of Windows 8 Enterprise that same day.

Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, has criticized Microsoft's decision, if in fact the company has decided. "That would be a mistake," said Miller in a Tuesday interview. "They have to get it out there as soon as possible."

Microsoft has been blasted for the lack of high-quality, in-demand apps on its Windows 8 and Windows RT app store, the sole distribution channel for touch-enabled apps designed for the new tile-based "Modern," née "Metro" user interface. Miller's point was that Windows 8 app developers should get an early look at the Windows 8.1 final code so they can test their apps against the update and start work on revisions -- and new apps -- that take advantage of the update's features and functionality.

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

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