Microsoft announced on Wednesday that it has completed the development and testing of Windows 8, a major upgrade of its OS for desktops, laptops and tablets and one of the most important product releases in the company's history.
Now Windows 8 is available to hardware makers that will release new PCs and tablets with the OS at the end of October, when the product officially starts shipping commercially.
"Together we are bringing to customers a new PC experience that readies Windows PCs for a new world of scenarios and experiences, while also preserving an industry-wide 25-year investment in Windows software," wrote Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division wrote in a blog post.
Windows 8 will run on devices with x86 chips from Intel and AMD, as well as on devices that use ARM chips. The ARM version of the OS is called Windows RT.
After hitting this RTM (release to manufacturing) milestone, Microsoft is reiterating the Oct. 26 date for the commercial availability of the OS in new devices as well as in stand-alone form as an OS upgrade on existing Windows PCs.
Microsoft has already announced two upgrade special offers for users with machines running Windows 7 and other versions of the OS.
Some Microsoft customers and partners, however, will get early access to Windows 8 this month, including developers, who will be able to download the OS through their MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscriptions starting on Aug. 15. On that same day, IT professionals testing the OS in their companies will gain access to it via their TechNet subscriptions.
On Aug. 16, the gates open for customers with Software Assurance contracts, who will get access to the Windows 8 Enterprise edition, as well as for Partner Network members who will be able to get Windows 8.
Four days later comes the turn for Microsoft Action Pack Providers, and on September 1st Volume License customers without Software Assurance will be able to buy Windows 8 from Volume License Resellers.
With Windows 8 and its new Metro interface optimized for devices whose screens support touch and stylus input, Microsoft will try to improve the operating system's weak position in the tablet market, widely dominated by Apple with its iPad.
Microsoft has seen in recent years as consumers have embraced tablets, particularly iPads, not only for personal use but also, to the surprise of many, for work, triggering the trend known as BYOD (bring your own device) to the office.
Microsoft's sense of urgency is such that it has even decided to release its own Microsoft-branded tablet, to improve the chances of success for Windows 8 in this market, although the move has rubbed some of its device manufacturing partners the wrong way.
A key question for Windows 8 is how much support it will get from application developers, a crucial element in the success or failure of a new OS. In its RTM announcement on Wednesday, Microsoft pointed out that come Aug. 15, developers will find in the Windows Development Center "all the tools and resources" needed to build Windows 8 applications, including the final build of Visual Studio 2012.
Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.