With various news reports that a “Release Candidate” or RC of Windows 8 is due in May or June it is useful to reflect on how that term has been corrupted over the years, particularly by Microsoft’s Windows team.
Once upon a time you did a series (one to three) of beta releases, followed by a series of later builds that were for internal testing. Some of those later builds were also given to close partners (internal and external to Microsoft) to test as well. At some point you were doing builds that only contained a handful of bug fixes, and when you did a build that contained all the planned bug fixes it became a “potential RC”. Only if internal testing revealed no additional bugs needing to be fixed, and thus the build appeared ready for release, would you declare it the Release Candidate. In other words, you only called something a Release Candidate if it was something you thought actually had the potential to be released. Often when you produced the RC there were still a few problems that needed investigation, triage, and occasionally a fix, plus you’d hand out the RC to your partners (to test and even put into production for a few days) and that would produce a few more problems to investigate and triage, so in reality there would be a small number of RC builds before you actually had something to Release to Manufacturing (RTM). But this was a process that would take a week or two, not months.
Somewhere along the line the Windows team started treating the notion of Release Candidate differently. RC now marks the point in which all functional and user experience changes are complete and they enter a bug fix only mode. The bar for making bug fixes goes up, but doesn’t seem to be limited to Priority 1/Severity 1 bugs (e.g., data corruption or other problems so significant that you would pull the software back from manufacturing to fix them) as it was for the traditional definition for post-RC builds. Other products would have called this another beta, and saved the RC designation for a true potential release candidate.
So while I’m excited by the possibility that we’ll see a Windows 8 “RC” in May or June, it is apparently going to be a build with quite a number of user visible changes. And that means the Windows team will need at least several weeks of testing and bug fixing before they can produce a true candidate for release to manufacturing.