Windows 8 in its final form is closer than you think, and if you're a developer, you can get it immediately. Windows 8 RTM is now available for download for subscribers to Microsoft's TechNet and MSDN subscription sites for developers.
Consumers who want to try out the emerging hybrid tablet and desktop operating system can still download the Windows 8 Release Preview, which only differs slightly from the RTM version. Final availability of the operating system will be on 26 October.
Windows 8 RTM is Microsoft's bid to bring its massive 600 million-plus strong Windows PC base to the new world of tablet computing. The RTM code will run on any PC that can run Windows 7, but a tablet-only Windows RT version will only be available on new mobile CPU-powered touch tablets, such as Microsoft's own Surface RT. Those tablets will only run the newer style apps that were until recently referred to as Metro-style apps, while Intel and AMD-based tablets and PCs will be able to run all Windows apps, including anything that runs on Windows 7, in what's called desktop mode.
The RTM release only differs slightly from the Windows 8 Release Preview that was made available for public download on 31 May. Most noticeable are the new "tattoos," which let users decorate their Start screen with artistic flourishes. New tip screens during initial setup show new users of the OS the basic touch and mouse gestures that access operating system features. Essentially, swiping in from the screen edges on touch screens and moving the mouse pointer to screen corners initiates most OS activities.
The default Microsoft apps in Windows 8 RTM for things like Mail, People (a social network app that works with Facebook and Twitter), Messaging, Music, Video, and more no longer say "Preview" at startup, and have been slightly updated since Release Preview, but they may undergo further refinements before general availability in October.
The Windows Store for buying new-style, touch-friendly apps now offers priced as well as free apps. App prices range from $1.49 to $999.99. Microsoft is emulating Apple in creating a store that gives the company a cut for apps sold in the store, though the terms are somewhat more generous to developers. As in Apple's store, an app bought in the Windows Store can be installed on the user's other PCs without a repurchase.
Like Release Preview, Windows 8 RTM can run on any hardware that can run Windows 7, and current owners of Windows 7, Vista, and XP licenses will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 for $39.99. Buyers of new Windows 7 PCs will be able to upgrade for $14.99.
UK specific pricing has not yet been announced.