Microsoft Confirms Windows 8 Headed For August RTM, October Launch

At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) today, Steve Ballmer formally announced the launch date for Windows 8 -- the OS will be RTM'd (Released To Manufacturing) the first week of August, with an estimated ship date in October. Microsoft's own ARM-flavored Windows 8 Surface will supposedly go on sale "around" that time frame; the company mostly showed off demo units and ultrabooks from the likes of HP, Lenovo, and Acer.

Microsoft is forecasting a sales target of 375 million new Windows devices in the next twelve months and took paints at the conference to tell everyone that Surface -- the company's own tablet/ultrabook hybrid -- will only account for a "few million" of those devices. This is Microsoft trying to soothe a panicked horse; the company's OEM partners clearly weren't happy about being blindsided with the system, and Redmond is working overtime to convince them it's not a problem. A Windows RT tablet was also shown off, though it was an early developer model.

Go get 'em, Steve!

Anyone who buys a Windows PC between now and Windows 8 launch will reportedly be able to upgrade for just $14.99, while those of us with Windows 7 licenses have already heard the $39.99 upgrade price. That's quite a deal compared to Microsoft's previous offers, though it's not clear yet how many users will want to upgrade to Windows 8 in the first place. As a conventional user, I'm on the fence about it -- for all the things I like about Windows 8's Desktop, having to use the Start Screen is an enormous negative. Office 15 -- the next-generation, Metro-compatible Office flavor -- was briefly demoed, but no real details were given.

Whether you like Windows 8 or hate it, it's impossible to argue with the excitement of the launch. With Windows 8, Microsoft has done virtually everything differently. Storage is pooled, upgrade licenses are cheap, the Metro UI is a clean break from the past, the UI is designed to scale to high resolutions much more effectively than in the past, there's a protected (hopefully malware free) store for products, DVD playback is now a separate package, and it'll be the first OS to support both x86 and ARM architectures. It's the first OS to feature direct ties to the Xbox (a potentially great idea) and it'll support AMD's Bulldozer and Piledriver-based CPUs more effectively than Windows 7.

Plenty of people think the OS could crash and burn thanks to Metro, but it's still exciting to see Microsoft, after years of pushing relatively minor Windows + Office updates, actually do something different. If Windows 8 works, it could redeem Steve Ballmer, whose leadership of the company has come under heavy fire from both Forbes and Vanity Fair of late. It could even give Windows Phone a much-needed shot in the arm, or at least help familiarize people with the look/feel of the OS so that Windows Phone devices feel familiar when it comes time to shop for upgrades.

Of course, it's also possible that the whole affair will crash and burn thanks to unhappy desktop users who don't want to muck with the Start Screen -- but even that's exciting. It's been a long time since Microsoft took a risk like this, and we're curious to see how it plays out through the back half of 2012 and into 2013.