Along with Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1, Microsoft said on Tuesday that Windows Server 2012 R2has been released to manufacturing (RTM), meaning that the team has signed off on the code and is distributing the build to hardware partners. However don't expect to see the RTM launched early on TechNet and MSDN as Microsoft has done with every other server release in the past; Microsoft plans to hold on to the R2 bits until the official launch on October 18, 2013.
"This release is being handled a bit differently than in years past," states Microsoft's Brad Anderson. "With previous releases, shortly after the RTM Microsoft provided access to software through our MSDN and TechNet subscriptions. Because this release was built and delivered at a much faster pace than past products, and because we want to ensure that you get the very highest quality product, we made the decision to complete the final validation phases prior to distributing the release."
Microsoft is pulling the same stunt with the consumer-based Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 platforms, so don't feel singled out. As Anderson points out, Microsoft is taking an incremental road with its Windows 8 platforms instead of waiting two or three years to launch an updated product. That means more features, more improvements and increased stability on a much faster schedule.
However the sacrifice, it seems, is that Microsoft would rather hold on to the final bits until the last second. This RTM to GA window allows OEMs to provide feedback on bugs and performance issues that in turn are addressed in patches, and distributed to OEMs along with the current Windows 8.1/RT/Server 2012 R2 "Preview" crowd. Once October 18 arrives, Microsoft will not have only addressed these issues, but incorporated the fixes into the final GA release. After that, Microsoft should continue to roll out minor post-launch fixes until most of the immediate update issues are eradicated.
To some degree, Microsoft is likely keeping its 8.1/R2 update from the TechNet and MSDN masses to prevent possible added negativity surrounding the entire Windows 8 family. The change in interface from Windows 7 to Windows 8 caused enough chaos as it was last year, and many OEMs are still blaming the Windows 8 platform for accelerating the PC market decline. Throw in Microsoft's financial woes regarding Surface RT and the supposed early "retirement" of current CEO Steve Ballmer, and the last thing Microsoft needs is a hugely buggy Windows 8.1/RT/Server 2012 R2 launch. A LOT is riding on October 18.
"While every release milestone provides ample reason to celebrate (and trust me, there’s going to be a party here in Redmond), we are all particularly excited this time around because we’ve delivered so much in such a short amount of time," Anderson said. "The amazing new features in this release cover virtualization, storage, networking, management, access, information protection, and much more."
Server 2012 R2 will see the release of three versions: Essentials, Standard and Datacenter. Microsoft says Server 2012 R2 will provide faster VM deployment, booting from SCSI, and moves from driver emulators to synthetic hardware drivers to minimize legacy support. It will also bring back the Windows Start button, but don't expect the actual Start Menu's return: the button takes you straight to the Start Screen. However by right-clicking on the button, users have access to the Task Manager, File Explorer, Disk Management and so on.
"The next update to Windows Intune will be available at the time of GA, and we are also on track to deliver System Center 2012 R2," Anderson says.
For more information about Windows Server 2012 R2 and the three related releases, head here. The platform officially launches on October 18, but the company is still serving up the Preview version here in case you're interested in an early taste.
Kevin Parrish is a contributing editor and writer for Tom's Hardware,Tom's Games and Tom's Guide. He's also a graphic artist, CAD operator and network administrator.
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