Microsoft eyes October launch for Windows 8

Windows 8 LogoTORONTO – Kicking off its Worldwide Partner Conference here, Microsoft confirmed Windows 8 is on track for release to manufacturing in August, with a general availability date “at the end of October.”

Tami Reller, the company’s head of Windows marketing, announced the timeline during Monday morning’s keynotes at WPC. Specific dates were not announced, but it brings the company’s next-generation operating system, and the biggest part of what the company is calling its biggest product launch year in history, a little closer to fruition.

“This will be the best year ever, ever, ever to be a Microsoft partner, to get out there and make a difference,” CEO Steve Ballmer told partners. “You’ll have tools to go up against anybody, on the desktop, in the data centre and in people’s hands.”

The multi-screen Windows message is at the very heart of Microsoft’s strategy, with Windows 8 slated to run on a variety of PC and tablet form factors, and Windows RT, due out at about the same time, providing access to the full Windows experience on a variety of new devices.

Many of those new devices were on display, as Reller walked partners through a variety of Windows 8-ready configurations coming from the company’s major OEM partners, including the Spectre from HP, the ThinkPad Yoga from Lenovo, ultrabook offerings from Acer and Windows RT-based devices from Asus. The company has also been showing off Windows Phone 8, currently in development and rounding out its lineup of Windows endpoints.

But perhaps the most buzzed-about Windows endpoint in recent weeks was little-mentioned on the main stage at WPC. With an audience of partners of all shapes and sizes – and yes, that includes its hardware manufacturer partners – Microsoft perhaps felt compelled to take the spotlight off of its heavily-hyped Surface tablets at WPC.

One of the few mentions of the recently-announced device came from CEO Ballmer, who said that Microsoft itself expects to sell only “a few” of the 350 million or so Windows-based devices expected to be sold over the next 12 months. The vast majority, he said, will continue to be third-party hardware of various configurations.

“There will be a spectrum of stunning Windows devices, so that every person can say ‘there’s a perfect Windows device for me,” he said.

But Microsoft declined to mention – not even a “stay tuned for more information” – the potential channel opportunities around the company’s new hardware offering. Given that it has faced some criticism for competing with its hardware partners with the Surface, and given the scarcity of details around how the company’s partners will be able to work with, or sell, the Surface hardware, the silence from Microsoft seems to lend some credence to PartnerPath analyst Beth Vanni’s memo last week that Microsoft seems to be leaving its biggest weapon (the channel) behind as it enters tablet marketplace.

Reller also thanked the company’s partner community (16,000-plus of whom are in Toronto for this week’s events) for their role in the success of Windows 7 thus far, including some 630 million licenses sold to date. More than 50 per cent of enterprise desktops today, she said, are on Windows 7.