Windows 8 RTM leaks to Web

Hits file-sharing sites one day after Microsoft announces milestone

A final copy of Windows 8 leaked to the Internet on Thursday, just a day after Microsoft stamped the new operating system as finished.

Identified as Windows 8 Enterprise N -- the "N" marks it as aimed at European users -- on several BitTorrent file-sharing websites, it was unclear yesterday whether the leaked build was legitimate.

Although some who downloaded the leaked copy asserted it was an invalid build, the consensus early Friday was that it was the real deal.

"Legitimate. It works. Looks real," said one commenter on a popular file-sharing site. Numerous downloaders posted screenshots to back up their contention that the leak was the actual Windows 8.

Others vouched for it as well, including "Canouna," the nickname used by an administrator of the WinLeaked forum.

The copy is an English-language version, but according to the file-sharing sites is non-booting, meaning pirates must create installation media. Instructions for generating a DVD- or USB flash drive-based installer were posted on some of the file-sharing websites, and available elsewhere on the Internet.

Microsoft's N editions omit Windows Media Player, and are distributed throughout most of Europe as part of the mandate by European Union antitrust regulators after a 2004 decision that concluded Microsoft's bundling of the player program was anti-competitive.

Leaks of upcoming Windows releases are not uncommon. In the run-up to Windows 7's launch three years ago, pirated copies appeared regularly, from the October 2008 leak of an "alpha" version Microsoft meant only for developers to Windows 7 Release Candidate, which went public about two weeks before Microsoft officially launched the preview.

The company has avoided much of that with Windows 8, although a Chinese edition of the operating system made it to the Internet three days before Microsoft shipped the Release Candidate, the final public preview, in late May.

Previously, Microsoft has warned users not to install leaked builds, claiming that they can be infected with malware.

Some customers can obtain a non-pirated copy of Windows 8 as soon as Aug. 15, when the RTM, or "release to manufacturing" milestone -- the same code as will be installed on new PCs -- reaches the MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) and TechNet services.

Enterprises with Software Assurance licensing plans -- Software Assurance is essentially an annuity that gives companies the right to run any version of a product -- will be able to grab Windows 8 starting Aug. 16, as will members of the Microsoft Partner Network.

Windows 8 will launch Oct. 26, with two editions in retail -- Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro -- and another, the Enterprise edition that leaked yesterday, targeting corporations with volume licensing agreements.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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