Rumor: Windows 8 Beta Could Arrive Next Month (UPDATED)
UPDATE, 12/7: Microsoft has confirmed that it will release a beta of Windows 8 in "late February." Read the story here.
According to two separate reports, Microsoft could release a beta of its forthcoming Windows 8 operating system in "late January" or "late February."
Microsoft has not publicly revealed the Windows 8 production timeline, but a beta release in early 2012 would seem to follow general Windows release cycles, which tend to occur every three years. For example, a beta of Windows 7 appeared at the January 2009 Computer Electronics Show (CES), with a final release appearing in October 2009.
Microsoft's software test release cycles typically progress from "beta" to "release candidate," which is when all of the features are baked into the product. The next phase after those test stages is the "release-to-manufacturing" (RTM) build, which is a final product for PC makers to image and install onto new hardware. Finally, a "general availability" release represents the actual release of the product to the public.
Currently, Windows 8 exists only as a pre-beta "developer preview" (available here), meaning the final feature set is not clear.
Citing unnamed sources, the site Winrumors.com points to late January 2012 for the beta release of Windows 8. Winrumors' sources also expect to see a preview copy of the next Office software to appear at that time. The 2012 CES will start on Jan. 10, but Microsoft will only show preview versions of its new OS and new Office suite around that time, according to Winrumors.
A story by the Web site The Next Web claims that "sources close to Microsoft" expect the Windows 8 beta to appear in late February. The author of this article estimates a June 2012 RTM milestone for Windows 8.
Veteran Microsoft observer Mary Jo Foley, who often gets tips from Microsoft sources, has only heard that the beta of Windows 8 will be released sometime after the 2012 CES in January, according to her note at the end of this blog post.
Windows 8 may offer some additional complications this time around because of its added support for the ARM hardware platform, on top of x86 and x64 hardware. A recent article published by DigiTimes cited unnamed notebook vendors as predicting that Windows 8 on ARM would appear "at the end of 2012 and will try to compete in the notebook market as soon as June 2013."
Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry has consistently forecast Windows 8 device shipments slipping into 2013, as noted in this Computerworld article. Cherry told Reuters that the RTM ship date for Windows 8 would occur sometime in the fourth quarter of 2012, followed by general availability 90 days afterward. That schedule pushes the general availability release of Windows 8 into 2013.
Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, has explained that Microsoft would typically want to target its Windows 8 releases to its hardware partners based on specific consumer selling periods. For instance, the back-to-school market selling season starts in May, while the holiday selling season begins in August. If Cherry is correct on the fourth-quarter 2012 milestone for releasing Windows 8 to manufacturers, that would give them some time to produce for those 2013 selling seasons.
The Trouble With Tablets
Windows 8 will be a PC desktop OS as well as one designed for tablets running system-on-chip technologies from Intel and AMD (x86), plus the new ARM platform. Should Windows 8 get pushed out into 2013, that schedule would put Microsoft further behind the consumer tablet race, currently led by the Apple iPad.
Microsoft may already be facing marketing challenges as consumers look to purchase other tablets than ones based on Windows. A recent study by Forrester Research suggested that consumer interest in Windows tablets is already on the wane.
More on Windows 8:
Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.