SkyDrive renaming and Windows 8.1 “delay” – are they related?

Microsoft has stepped in it once again with the official announcement yesterday that although Windows 8.1 has “RTM”ed (which up until now has always meant “Released to Manufacturing”, ie: the bits were done and Microsoft would start printing disks/CDs/DVDs, but now apparently means “Released to manufacturers” and doesn’t mean much of anything at all, anymore), and the further confirmation that no, MSDN subscribers would not be getting the bits until Windows 8.1 reaches “GA”, General Availability, on October 18th.

This has caused a bit of a s&#tstorm among developers, IT Pros, and others who are used to getting their hands on new releases a bit early, to be able to test the software, and test their apps against the latest bits. Microsoft has been using developers as something of a punching bag in the past few years, first by pulling back on Silverlight after pumping developers up on it for years, then by seemingly dropping support for .Net technologies in favor of HTML5/CSS3/JavaScript, and then going back on THAT at this year’s Build, trying to cover its tracks by giving those .Net devs a pat on the head.

The developers and IT Pros aren’t too happy with the latest changes (or much of anything that Microsoft has done recently). Microsoft’s official line, as reported by Ed Bott, is that they will “continue to refine Windows 8.1 to ensure a quality experience at general availability for customers on October 18th”. More pragmatic minds think the decision not to release 8.1 to MSDN has to do more with controlling the message than it does with worries about bug fixes. Not that there aren’t bugs to fix, and perhaps Microsoft is missing some of Steven Sinofsky’s engineering discipline and the bugs are more prevalent and serious than we’re recently accustomed to. But Microsoft is prepared to issue “QFE”s, or bug fixes, right up until GA, and perhaps even after, and MSDN subscribers, of all people, wouldn’t be surprised by a Microsoft bug or two.

At the same time, we’re waiting word from Microsoft on what the new name for SkyDrive will be. After being successfully sued by BSkyB in Europe over the use of “Sky” as part of SkyDrive, Microsoft first vowed to appeal, and then a few weeks later abruptly changed course, promising to change the name “in a reasonable period of time”. That time would seem to be upon us, as we can’t imagine why it would make any sense to go into this holiday season promoting a dead-man-walking brand name for a product that’s essential and a differentiator for Microsoft as it tries to woo consumers back, away from the iPad and Android.

And it’s not only Apple and Android that Microsoft is battling. Both Box and Dropbox are pushing hard in the consumer cloud storage space (and just a thought, how are these two able to keep their names, while SkyDrive has to change?). Yesterday, too, SkyDrive Pro, the only slightly related business counterpart to SkyDrive for Office 365, bumped its initial storage capacity up to 25GB from 7GB, and added paid tiers, only days after Box announced updates of its own.

So the question is, will Microsoft spring a new marketing plan, including a new name for SkyDrive (we’re guessing to Microsoft Drive, but who knows) to be launched on October 18th? Is this all an elaborate ploy to cloak new marketing efforts, to make a big splash with a new name and a new holiday marketing campaign? Naw, couldn’t be that easy, could it?