Microsoft will wrap up Windows 8 this summer, according to a report by Bloomberg on Monday.
Computer and tablet makers, called OEMs for "original equipment manufacturers," will have Windows 8-powered PCs and tablets ready to sell in October, Bloomberg said .
Windows 8 operating system will come in two flavors: Windows 8 for traditional PCs and business-grade slates and tablets , and Windows on ARM, or WOA, for tablets targeting consumers.
Microsoft declined to comment on the Bloomberg report, which cited what the news organization called "people with knowledge of the schedule," who asked for anonymity.
Neither a summer wrap-up or an October on-sale would be a surprise: Microsoft finished Windows 7 three years ago this July and launched the OS alongside new PCs on Oct. 22, 2009.
Analysts have expected that Microsoft is shooting for a release of Windows 8 this fall, possibly in October, to follow in Windows 7's successful footsteps and avoid a repeat of Windows Vista, which missed 2006's holiday selling season when it fell behind schedule and shipped in January 2007.
Microsoft has not disclosed a release date for Windows 8, but recently hinted that it would be this year.
The release of Windows 8 Consumer Preview at the end of last month was a clue that a fall 2012 debut was in the cards.
Microsoft released the first Windows 7 developer-oriented build at the end of October 2008, offered a public beta in January 2009, and pushed the final version onto shelves the third week of October 2009.
Although Windows 8's Consumer Preview will appear about seven weeks later in the calendar than the Windows 7 beta -- at the end of February compared to the latter's early January -- Windows 8's Developer Preview launched a month earlier, in mid-September 2011, rather than Windows 7's October 2008, perhaps making the two schedules a wash.
But at least one analyst wasn't buying the idea that October was a done deal.
"No, I don't think it's realistic," said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that tracks only Microsoft's moves, in an email reply to questions Monday. "While the Consumer Preview shows progress from the Developer Preview, it is still extremely rough, and many things are broken."
Cherry ticked off several problems he's encountered with the Consumer Preview, including an inability to link a Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard with a Windows 8 PC and the Metro-style Mail app not connecting to an Exchange server.
Although Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's top Windows executive, made his reputation by keeping Office releases on schedule, Cherry said a stubbornness to ship Windows 8 on time, come hell or high water, may be the wrong move.
"I think it would be a mistake if they allowed themselves to be date driven," Cherry said. "One of the worst things that could happen, in my opinion, would be to ship a product for the holidays that disappoints in any way."
Microsoft, other analysts have said, is gambling big on Windows 8 -- "betting the farm," in the words of one -- because the upgrade's emphasis on touch and tablets risks alienating enterprise customers .
Although Microsoft needs to address its tablet problem -- it has nothing to compete with Apple's popular iPad , which entered its third generation last week amid record-setting sales -- analysts have argued that the touch-centric operating system will offer few reasons for businesses to upgrade their desktops and notebooks.
That leaves tablets. If Microsoft gets it wrong with Windows 8 there, it will fall even further behind Apple, and to a lesser extent, Google 's Android operating system. Perhaps irreversibly behind.
Cherry used a different schedule from Windows 7 to bolster his belief that an October release Windows 8 was overly optimistic.
After looking at the Consumer Preview, and noting that Microsoft has not publicly showed WOA except in heavily scripted demos, Cherry remained leery of an October 2012 ship date for the two editions.
"[These things] only add to the feeling this is still on a RC [release candidate] schedule three months after Consumer Preview, and RTM [release to manufacturing] three months after that," said Cherry. "And that is an optimistic schedule in my mind."
In Windows 7's case, that operating system reached RC -- where the code is considered finished, but gets one last preview to trap bugs -- in early May 2009, and made RTM in late July.
RTM is a crucial milestone because it's then that code is offered to OEMs for prepping new PCs, to third-party developers to run final tests on new and existing applications, and to other hardware vendors to ready peripherals that will coexist with the OS.
Windows 7 reached RTM just over 11 weeks after the operating system met RC, which showed up about 16 weeks after the public beta.
If Cherry's mock beta-to-RC-to-RTM schedule becomes reality, Microsoft would issue a Windows 8 RC at the end of May and the RTM at the end of August. That last milestone would be approximately a month later on the calendar than Windows 7, which could in turn push Windows 8's on-sale date into late November.
According to Bloomberg, the same sources who claimed an October on-sale date also said that Microsoft would host an event early next month, when it would brief industry partners on Windows 8's release schedule and marketing efforts.
Anti-Windows 8 momentum has been building since the Consumer Preview was released three weeks, with much of the commentary focused on the dual -- and dueling -- traditional Windows desktop interface and the new "Metro" app-like look and feel.
If Microsoft uses the same week and day to unveil Windows 8 as it did three years for Windows 7, it would host a launch event on Oct. 25.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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