updated 07:25 pm EST, Thu March 3, 2011
Windows 8 roadmap tip puts it in late summer 2012
Microsoft's long-term schedule for Windows 8 tablets was given support Thursday night with an apparent leak of the timetable. Sources backed the notion of a Windows 8 public beta being ready at the end of 2011 and a finished version of the OS nearly a year, in time for the "back-to-school season." The timing given to Bloomberg wasn't more specific, but it would be consistent with the third anniversary of Windows 7's Release To Manufacturing (RTM) and Microsoft's preference for three-year gaps between OS releases.
The OS is expected to be Microsoft's first true, specifically tablet oriented version of Windows and its best chance at competing with Apple and Google in the burgeoning mobile tablet category. It should have more touch-oriented elements, possibly borrowing cues from its own Metro UI from Windows Phone 7 and from Apple. Microsoft has been quiet on most details but has made tablets its clear focus with support for ARM promising much better battery life and thinner designs.
A late 2012 schedule was expected by many, but if maintained could leave Microsoft without a significant answer to the iPad for roughly two and a half years after its first appearance. Chief executive Steve Ballmer tried championing Windows 7 as an early contender, but its fundamentally mouse-oriented OS led both customers and hardware partners to shy away. Windows Embedded Compact 7 adds features such as multi-touch but is mostly a stopgap measure.
Microsoft has long tried to focus on transforming traditional Windows PCs into tablets through convertible designs and shapes that are mostly netbooks without keyboards, but the company hasn't had success in the past eight years. Apple's 14.82 million iPads were enough for it to have outsold every Windows Tablet PC device ever made in nine months. Its success compared to Microsoft has mostly been credited to the truly touch-native interface, very long battery life and much lower price.