A closer look at the Windows 8 post-RTM update process

So, last week, Steven Sinofsky announced the availability of a cumulative update for Windows 8. Bundled with that announcement was some insight into what happens with fixes made after the OS goes gold (or RTM). Specifically, Sinofsky explained that certain fixes get delivered to OEMs prior to the public:

We would often create dozens of changes for each OEM for these new PCs. Those changes would be deployed during manufacturing of those PCs and thus would be invisible to customers. While those changes could potentially apply to a broader range of PCs, we did not have in place the testing and certification to broadly distribute these updates. As a result, customers would have to wait until the first service pack to see these enhancements.

He continued, indicating that with Windows 8 some internal processes changed, allowing Microsoft to deliver these updates sooner than general availability (GA):

During the final months of Windows 8 we challenged ourselves to create the tools and processes to be able to deliver these “post-RTM” updates sooner than a service pack. By developing better test automation and test coverage tools we are happy to say that Windows 8 will be totally up to date for all customers starting at General Availability. If you are an MSDN or enterprise customer, these updates will be available for your Windows 8 PCs via Windows Update as of today (October 9), following our standard cadence for Windows Updates on the second Tuesday of each month at about 10:00am.

Sounds good to me.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this process is new. Gregg Keizer (Computerworld) fell into that trap, writing:

In Microsoft's terminology, RTM designates the point at which it considers the code completed, and ready to ship to computer makers for installing on new PCs. Microsoft has never updated a version of Windows between RTM and when the OS hits retail and PCs powered by it reach stores.

Matthew Siegler did too, mumbling:

Probably not the best sign in the world that Microsoft has to release service packs [sic] to the RTM version of Windows 8 before it has even launched. I mean, why declare RTM then? Well one possibility is that you’re working to meet a deadline rather than releasing when a product is fully baked.

Look, guys. Microsoft has been updating Windows in this manner for ages – at least since Windows Vista. That was so 6 years ago. To be more specific, Windows Vista saw a heap of updates, including the infamous Ultimate Extras pack, January 29, 2007 (a day before GA). Windows 7 received similar reliability updates on October 12, 2009 (10 days before GA).

Here's what the timelines look like, with the pre-GA/post-RTM release cadences in red:

What’s really new here is the delivery of updates previously reserved for OEM first use. (Ever wondered why OEMs had those atrocious software download pages with a weird assortment of Windows hotfixes?) It is the inclusion of these specific updates as part of the old patch delivery cycle that likely required the tooling and engineering improvements Sinofsky mentioned -- something definitely worth lauding.