This means they can test and evaluate the product in order to make decisions about when and if to migrate to the new platform, which officially launches Oct. 26.
TEST YOURSELF: The Windows 8 Quiz
Businesses without a TechNet subscription can get the final Windows 8 version Aug. 16 if they have a current Microsoft Software Assurance contract. The software will be accessible via the Microsoft Volume License Service Center. On the same day, the software will become available to Microsoft Partner Network members.
On Aug. 20, Windows 8 access is given to Microsoft Action Pack Providers who build services and products around Microsoft products. On Sept. 1, volume license customers that don't have Software Assurance contracts can get Windows 8 via Microsoft Volume License Resellers.
Beyond all these upcoming deadlines, Microsoft this week officially released the final Windows 8 build to manufacturers, meaning they can start installing it on Windows 8 hardware, prepping for the official launch when devices with the operating system loaded go on sale.
This is just the start of a potentially busy time for Microsoft customers. Also released to manufacturer this week were Windows Server 2012 and Internet Explorer 10, both of which are also of interest to Microsoft shops. Server 2012 launches Sept. 4 and anchors what Microsoft describes as a cloud operating system. This is a tight integration between Server 2012 and Microsoft's Azure cloud services, making it simpler to set up flexible data centers using traditional corporate infrastructure, private clouds and public clouds.
Microsoft knows it's ticking off its OEMs
"Our PC hardware products face competition from computer and other hardware manufacturers, many of which are also current or potential partners," the Form 10-K says. "In addition, our Surface devices will compete with products made by our OEM partners, which may affect their commitment to our platform."
That sounds like Microsoft expects the OEMs to be less than enthusiastic about slapping Microsoft operating systems on the hardware they make -- not a good frame of mind for them to have if you're launching a new operating system that depends in large part on OEMs licensing a lot of the software.
Windows Store opens for apps
Along with the release of the final version of Windows 8, the Windows Store is now accepting Metro-style applications from developers. There is a vetting process by Microsoft to approve any app that is accepted for sale in the store with the idea that if properly written, Metro apps will work well on Windows 8 machines, won't slow them down and will be less likely to contain malware.
Note: In order to submit to the store, developers must have the release to manufacturer version of Windows 8.
iPad may be the default holiday gift
The excitement over Windows 8 on tablets may do more to confuse customers than it will do to actually sell the devices, according to an IDC report on the sale of iPads in Q2 of this year.
iPads crushed the competition, scoring 68.2% of all tablet shipments, the research firm says. With the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet already available, and then Windows 8 and Windows RT devices going on sale in October, consumers may become confused.
"If anything, there's a real risk that people will have too many options from which to choose this holiday season," says Bob O'Donnell, IDC's program vice president for clients and displays. "Consumers baffled by the differences between Amazon and Google versions of Android, or Windows 8 and Windows RT, may well default to market leader Apple. Or they may simply choose to remain on the sideline for another cycle."
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