Microsoft announced today that Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing (RTM'd). (The final build number is 9200.)

At the same time, Microsoft ' s Internet Explorer ۱۰, Windows Server ۲۰۱۲ and Visual Studio ۲۰۱۲ also have reached the RTM milestone, given all of these products have been developed in lockstep with Windows ۸.(I am not ۱۰۰ percent sure if Windows RT also RTM ' d simultaneously and do not believe Microsoft officials ever promised this would be the case.)

Microsoft officials said earlier this month to expect Windows ۸ to RTM in the first week of August.(I modified this wording in my coverage to " by the first week of August, " knowing the propensity of Windows execs to pad their dates a bit in order to never be late.) As those same execs also noted previously, Windows ۸ will be generally available via retail and preloaded on new PCs and tablets on October ۲۶.

However, some will be able to get their hands on the Windows ۸ RTM bits a lot sooner. MSDN and TechNet subscribers get the bits on August ۱۵. Volume licenses with Software Assurance will get it on August ۱۶; volume licensees without SA will get the bits September ۱, according to a Windows Team blog post today.

Last week, Microsoft went public with details about its next big Windows developer conference. Build ۲۰۱۲ will be held October ۳۰ to November ۲ in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft execs said in September ۲۰۱۱ that there would be one public developer test build of Windows ۸(which came to be known as the Developer Preview), one public " beta "(the Consumer Preview) and one public Release Candidate(the Release Preview). There were additional private builds of Windows ۸ that went to a select few outside the company. But after the Release Candidate - - which Microsoft made available at the end of May ۲۰۱۲ - - there were no more public test builds of Windows ۸ scheduled before the product is released to manufacturing(RTM). Recent private builds included a number of user interface modifications, the removal of the " Aero " glass interface, as well as some under - the - hood programming interface tweaks.

Now that Microsoft has completed work on Windows ۸, the product goes to PC makers(which also includes Microsoft itself). The PC makers do testing, finish any kind of compatibility work they need to achieve and preload images the operating system on new PCs. The Microsoft Surface team is one of these OEMs and will be delivering the first of two Surface designs(the Surface RT, based on an ARM processor) at the same time as Windows ۸ is generally available, October ۲۶.

What's next for Windows? Microsoft is expected by some to speed up delivery of its next operating system releases, going forward. In other words, "Windows Next" -- or whatever Microsoft calls the successor to Windows 8 -- isn't expected to be three years away. It could be a lot sooner.