Microsoft flip-flops on Windows 8 release date

Microsoft’s next version of the Windows operating system, dubbed Windows 8, was initially to debut in 2012, company CEO Steve Ballmer said Monday.

But, soon backtracked from Ballmer’s statements made at a Tokyo conference saying that Microsoft has not officially announced any “timing or naming for the next version of Windows.”

That wasn’t all Ballmer had to say about the OS formerly referred to as Windows 8. “We’re obviously hard at work on the next version of Windows,” Ballmer said. “…as we look forward to the next generation of Windows systems, which will come out next year, there’s a whole lot more coming … expect to hear a lot about Windows 8. Windows 8 slates, tablets, PCs, a variety of different form factors.”

Microsoft was also quick to back off Ballmer’s tip off about upcoming Windows 8 devices. The company says Ballmer may have mis-spoke and that Microsoft is looking forward to the next generation of Windows 7-based hardware, not Windows 8 gadgets.

Despite what Microsoft is saying officially, most Windows watchers expect to see a public beta version of Windows 8 later this year, with an official release coming in 2012.

There’s also speculation that Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows and Windows Live division, will give an early preview of Windows 8 next week during the AllThingsD D9 conference that runs from May 31-June 2, according to WinRumors.

Ballmer made the announcement in Tokyo, speaking to an audience of software developers. Observers had been expecting the next version of Windows next year, but it was the first time that the company has officially confirmed the 2012 date. Ballmer told the developers, “as we look forward to the next generation of Windows systems, which will come out next year, there’s a whole lot more coming,” according to a transcript of his speech posted to Microsoft’s Web site.

“As we progress through the year, you ought to expect to hear a lot about Windows 8. Windows 8 slates, tablets, PCs, a variety of different form factors,” he added.

A 2012 release date would put Windows 8 about three years behind Windows 7, which came out in July 2009. Microsoft expects to sell more than 350 million copies of Windows 7 this year, and the company has traditionally relied on new versions of its operating system to spur sales.

The OS is expected to have an updated user interface and will support low-power ARM chips, a move designed to give Microsoft a fighting chance in the emerging tablet computing market.

With files from Ian Paul of the IDG News Service.

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