Today, Windows 8 Release Preview is available for download in 14 languages. This is our final pre-release, and includes Windows 8, Internet Explorer 10, new Windows 8 apps for connecting to Hotmail, SkyDrive, and Messenger (and many more), and hundreds of new and updated apps in the Windows Store. Since our first preview release last September, millions of people now use the pre-release product on a daily basis and millions more have been taking it through its paces, totaling hundreds of millions of hours of testing. We genuinely appreciate the effort that so many have put into pre-release testing, and of course, we appreciate the feedback too. Direct feedback and feedback through usage contributed to hundreds of visible changes in the product and tens of thousands of under-the-hood changes.

Just nine months ago, we kicked off this blog as a dialog about the design and development of Windows 8. We’ve talked in depth about building Windows 8, including the features, the designs, and the background behind these. We’ve done so in over 70 posts totaling over 500 pages if printed out and 34 videos totaling over 90 minutes, all coming directly from engineers of the product. We’ve had about 18,000 comments from approximately 7,000 people. Over 170 Windows engineers contributed to the dialog, including over 200 comments I posted (though I was out-commented by one other pretty active reader!). Of course, we’ve been carefully watching the telemetry of the millions of tech enthusiasts using the product at each milestone.

Windows is unique in this way. No other product used by so many provides such an inside view of the choices and development of the product as it evolves—and sometimes we forget that we are talking about a product still under active development even while we are discussing the designs and actively using it. The affirmations, debates, and even disagreements play a crucial role in the development of Windows. This has never been truer, as we reimagine Windows from the chipset to the experience—new hardware support, new user interaction models, new scenarios, new APIs and more, are all enabled with Windows 8, while we bring forward and improve the way Windows 7 has been used on over 550 million PCs around the world. Coming soon, we will see a new wave of PCs designed for Windows 8, along with new apps powered by the new Windows 8 platform.

The team has the deepest respect for, and is always humbled by the responses on the blog and in the stories about the posts. Thank you!

Our next milestone is traditionally called RTM, Release to Manufacturing, and from today until RTM, we will still be changing Windows 8, as we have done in past releases of Windows. We thought it would be a good idea to outline the kinds of feedback we are acting on as millions download and use the Windows 8 Release Preview.

Our focus from now until RTM is on continuing to maintain a quality level higher than Windows 7 in all the measures we focus on, including reliability over time; security to the core; PC, software, and peripheral compatibility; and resource utilization. We will rely heavily on the telemetry built into the product from setup through usage to inform us of the real world experience over time of the Release Preview. In addition, we carefully monitor our forums for reproducible reports relative to PC, software, and peripheral compatibility. We’ll be looking hard at every aspect of Windows 8 as we complete the work on the product, but we want to highlight the following:

  • Installation – We have significant telemetry in the setup process and also significant logging. Of course, if you can’t set up Windows 8 at all, that is something we are interested in, and the same holds for upgrades from Windows 7. Please note the specifics regarding installation requirements and cautions found on the download page.
  • Security and privacy – Obviously, any vulnerability is a something we would want to address. We will use the same criteria to address these issues as we would for any in-market product.
  • Reliability and responsiveness – We are monitoring the “crash” reports for issues that impact broad sets of people. These could be caused by Windows code, Microsoft or third-party drivers, or third-party apps. Information about crashes streams in “real time” to Microsoft, and we watch it very carefully. We also have a lot of new data coming on the hundreds of new apps in the Windows Store.
  • Device installation and compatibility – When you download a driver from Windows Update or install a driver via a manufacturer’s setup program, we collect data about that download via the Plug and Play (PnP) ID program. We’ve seen millions of unique PnP IDs through the Consumer Preview. We also receive the IDs for devices that failed to locate drivers. We are constantly updating the Plug and Play web service with pointers to information about each device (driver availability, instructions, etc.) We actively monitor the use of the compatibility modes required when the first installation of a Windows 7 based product does not succeed.
  • Software compatibility – Similar to device compatibility, we are also monitoring the installation process for software, and noting programs that do not install successfully. Again, we have the mechanism to help move that forward, and/or introduce compatibility work in the RTM milestone. Here too, we actively monitor the use of compatibility modes required when the first installation of a Windows 7-based product does not succeed. We have tested thousands of complex commercial products from around the world in preparation for the Release Preview.
  • Servicing – We will continue to test the servicing of Windows 8 so everyone should expect updates to be made available via Windows Update. This will include new drivers and updates to Windows 8, some arriving very soon as part of a planned rollout. Test updates will be labeled as such. We might also fix any significant issue with new code. All of this effort serves to validate the servicing pipeline, and to maintain the quality of the Release Preview.
  • New hardware – Perhaps the most important category for potential fixes comes from making sure that we work with all the new hardware being made as we all use build 8400. Our PC manufacturing partners and hardware partners are engineering new PCs, and these include hardware combinations that are new to the market and new to the OS. We’re working together to make sure Windows 8 has great support for these new PCs and hardware.

In fact, as some have noted, the RP itself was compiled over a week ago (build 8400). It takes time to complete the localized builds, validate the download images and process, as well as gear up all along the network edge for a fairly significant download event.

The path to RTM is well defined and critical to the careful and high quality landing of Windows 8 for our PC manufacturing partners. The changes we make to the product from RP to RTM are all carefully considered and deliberate, including some specific feature changes we plan on making to the user experience (as we talked about in previous posts). This is a routine part of the late stages of bringing a complex product like Windows to market. Throughout this process, every change to the code is looked at by many people across development and test, and across many different teams.  We have a lot of engineers changing a very little bit of code.  We often say that shipping a major product means “slowing everything down.”  Right now we’re being very deliberate with every change we make and ensuring our quality is higher than ever as we progress towards RTM. The product is final when it is loaded on new PCs or broadly available for purchase.

RTM itself is a product development phase, rather than a moment in time. We continue to roll out Windows 8 in over 100 different languages and we are preparing final products for different markets around the world. As that process concludes, we are done changing the code and are officially “servicing” Windows 8.  That means any subsequent changes are delivered as fixes (KB articles) or subsequent servicing via Windows Update.  Obviously, our ability to deliver fixes via Windows Update has substantially changed the way we release to manufacturing, and so it is not unreasonable to expect updates soon after the product is complete, as occurred for Windows 7. There are no surprises here, but we’re making sure readers of this blog know what is coming down the road.

Once we have entered the RTM stage, our partners will begin making their final images and manufacturing PCs, and hardware and software vendors will ready their Windows 8 support and new products. We will also begin to manufacture retail boxes for shipment around the world. We will continue to work with our enterprise customers as well, as we ensure availability of the volume license tools and products.

Remember, if you buy a new PC running Windows 7 today, with the great support from our PC partners, you will be ready for Windows 8.

Delivering the highest quality Windows 8 is the most important criteria for us at this point—quality in every dimension.  The RTM process is designed to be deliberate and maintain the overall engineering integrity of the system. 

Ultimately, our partners will determine when their PCs are available in market.  If the feedback and telemetry on Windows 8 and Windows RT match our expectations, then we will enter the final phases of the RTM process in about 2 months.  If we are successful in that, then we are tracking to our shared goal of having PCs with Windows 8 and Windows RT available for the holidays.

On behalf of the Windows team,

Steven Sinofsky

PS: Please be sure to check the download page for system requirements, release notes, upgrade instructions, and other details on how to install and use the Release Preview.