Windows 8 Beta Rumored for Early Next Year
Various sources are reporting January or February dates for the beta, with possible release unlikely until 2013.
Microsoft risks falling far behind the competition in the increasingly-crowded tablet computer market, which is the segment targeted with its Windows 8 operating system.
Because of that, pressure is undoubtedly high to fast-track Windows 8 and get it out the door as soon as possible.
That's why Microsoft could release a beta of Windows 8 in "late January" or "late February," according to two media reports.
The Windows 8 production timeline has not been released by Microsoft to the public, but these rumors of an early 2012 beta release seem to be in keeping with Microsoft's general Windows release cycles, which tend to occur every three years. For instance, looking back to Windows 7, we saw the beta appear at the January 2009 CES show, with a final public release of that operating system in October of 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" 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 is at a pre-beta "developer preview" stage, where the final feature set is not clear. However, people can download the developer preview here and take a look at it.
Citing unnamed sources, 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 Computer Electronics Show will start on Jan. 10, but Microsoft will only show preview versions of its new OS and new Office around that time, according to Winrumors.
A story by 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 release-to-manufacturing 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 Consumer Electronics Show 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 release-to-manufacturing 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.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.