Windows 8 has been declared RTM, or released to manufacturing, by Microsoft, sending it to the hundreds of hardware partners for installation and testing on their PCs, notebooks and tablets. But what does the road to launch look like for businesses and developers? 

Job Done...

As far as a Windows release is ever finished, Microsoft has declared Windows 8 ready for prime time. But, before now and the launch date on 26 October, there will be a frenetic amount of activity to get the final version of the OS tested on all the existing PC systems and shiny new launch hardware that Microsoft's wide range of partners has to offer.  

For developers, enterprise IT departments and others in the Microsoft food chain, the next few weeks looks a little like this. With most of them able to access Windows 8 for testing and integration  long before the humble consumer gets a look. 

  • August 15th: Developers will be able to download the final version of Windows 8 via MSDN subscriptions.
  • August 15th: IT professionals testing Windows 8 in organizations will be able to access the final version of Windows 8 through TechNet subscriptions.
  • August 16th: Customers with existing Microsoft Software Assurance for Windows will be able to download Windows 8 Enterprise edition through the Volume License Service Center (VLSC), allowing them to test, pilot and begin adopting Windows 8 Enterprise within your organization.
  • August 16th: Microsoft Partner Network members will have access to Windows 8.
  • August 20th: Microsoft Action Pack Providers (MAPS) receive access to Windows 8.
  • September 1st: Volume License customers without Software Assurance will be able to purchase Windows 8 through Microsoft Volume License Resellers.

For the Rest Of Us

The consumer preview is still available to download and try out, but as Microsoft transitions, updates and overhauls a host of its services, keeping up is going to be a challenge. Already this month we've seen Hotmail become and Bing Maps receive a major refresh, while Microsoft recently unveiled the new input peripherals that support Windows 8. 

For developers, the drive to Windows 8 is already under way but will be crystallized in the upcoming Build conference, with registration beginning next week. Until that big launch day, Microsoft will likely be spending huge amounts of marketing and awareness raising, to ensure that the whole world knows what's coming.

Will it go with a "game changer" marketing approach, or has that been done to death? Steve Sinofsky, head of Windows, has talked lots about "reimagining Windows", so perhaps that will be the lead marketing tag? Certainly, Windows 8 will be very different to its ancestors.

It will be the first Windows to have an integrated app store or marketplace. It will be the first to be designed for tablets and phones, After the success of Windows 7, expect a lively future for the OS, as long as the multi-faceted elements mesh together as designed.