Microsoft Windows 8.1 RTM Eclipsed by Ballmer Exit

Ballmer's upcoming retirement may have taken the spotlight, but Microsoft crossed a major milestone toward the release of the Windows 8.1 update.

Windows 8.1

Last week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's surprise announcement eclipsed the news of some progress on the Windows front.

As the tech world weighed the impact of Ballmer's impending retirement from the software giant, the company took one step closer to the Oct. 17 release of Windows 8.1. According to insiders, Microsoft has released to manufacturing the awaited free update. As the term suggests, "release to manufacturing," or RTM, is the final code that software publishers release to retail.

Following a tweet from Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott, which revealed the RTM build for Windows 8.1 (build number 9600.16384.130821-1623), CNET's Mary Jo Foley reported on Aug. 23 that the company is indeed sitting on the finalized code.

Foley spoke with a source "who said the internal RTM email made the rounds inside the Windows division on Aug. 23," she wrote. "A third source close to the company confirmed Microsoft RTM'd Windows 8.1 on Aug. 23, and announced internally that the quality metrics for Windows 8.1 were back in line with those of Windows 7."

Windows 8.1, formerly code-named Blue, includes several new enhancements and features that address many of the controversial changes that the company made to its flagship operating system (OS), which launched Oct. 26, 2012. These include new boot-to-desktop options and a resurrected Start button. The OS will also usher in 3D printing support and tighter SkyDrive integration.

To lure in the corporate set, Windows 8.1 Enterprise features advanced encryption capabilities and expanded BYOD management capabilities. "The Windows 8.1 update offers a full spectrum of new and improved security capabilities—from features that enable devices to be fully locked down by IT, to remote security options for BYOD devices, to safeguards for personal devices that need to access business resources from home," wrote Dustin Ingalls, group program manager for Windows Security and Identity, in an Aug. 2 blog post detailing the changes.

Outwardly, Microsoft is keeping mum. One possible reason, Foley offered, is that the company "may have opted against announcing Windows 8.1's RTM on Friday so that the news wouldn't be overshadowed by the announcement that CEO Steve Ballmer is retiring sometime within the next 12 months." She added that the company is expected to officially announce Windows 8.1 RTM as soon as Monday, Aug. 26.

Steve Ballmer announced on Aug. 23 that he was stepping down as CEO of Microsoft. He expects to hand over the helm of the company as soon as a committee, which includes former CEO Bill Gates, selects a successor to lead Microsoft. In an internal email, Ballmer wrote, "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time."

"As a member of the succession planning committee, I’ll work closely with the other members of the board to identify a great new CEO. We’re fortunate to have Steve in his role until the new CEO assumes these duties," said Gates in a statement.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...