Microsoft today said it will officially launch Windows 8 in late October when it starts selling upgrades and its hardware partners begin selling PCs, tablets and hybrid devices powered by the new operating system.
Windows 8 is also on track to reach "release to manufacturing," or RTM, the first week of August, said Tami Reller, Microsoft's CFO as well as the head marketing executive for Windows.
The October ship date, or as Microsoft calls it, "general availability" (GA), has been long expected by analysts. Using prior development cycle timelines, primarily that for Windows 7, Computerworld had pegged Oct. 25 as the most-likely launch date for Windows 8.
RTM denotes the stage at which Microsoft certifies the software as completed and ready to send to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) -- the Hewlett-Packards, Dells and Lenovos of the world -- so that they can start installing it on new machines. Previously, several sites and online discussion forums said RTM would be announced at Microsoft's Global eXchange (MGX), which runs July 17-20 in Atlanta.
MGX is the company's annual internal mass meeting of executives, salespeople and product managers where the next fiscal year's goals and projects are trumpeted to the troops. Microsoft used MGX to announce Windows 7 RTM in 2009.
"Windows 8 is on track to RTM the first week of August," said Reller during a keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), which opened today in Toronto. "And Windows 8 will reach general availability at the end of October."
Enterprises that have signed volume licensing agreements with Microsoft will get Windows 8 months before the general consumer public. "For enterprise customers, you will have complete access to Windows 8 bits as early as August," Reller said.
It's likely that subscribers to Microsoft's for-a-fee developer services, including MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and TechNet, will also have access to Windows 8's RTM code around that same time.
Windows 8's GA date is important because that's when OEMs will roll out new PCs and other devices to retail.
According to a follow-up blog post today by Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc and Reller, the hardware will include desktops, laptops, tablets and so-called "convertibles" -- machines that combine elements of notebooks and tablets -- powered by Windows 8, and tablets running Windows RT, the offshoot designed for devices with ARM processors.
Presumably the latter will include Microsoft's own Surface tablet, which the company unveiled last month. At the time, Microsoft would not set a ship schedule for Surface other than to say that the model running Windows RT would go on sale around the time of Windows 8's release.
GA is also when Microsoft will kick off its Windows 8 upgrade program. Last week, the company announced it would sell upgrades to Windows 8 Pro, the higher-priced of the two retail versions, for $39.99 to customers now running Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. The price will be honored through the end of January 2013.
When Windows 8 reaches RTM, Microsoft will turn on the commerce portion of Windows Store, the Metro app market, and for the first time let developers charge for their software.
"Windows 8 is the most-tested operating system ever," said Reller. "[And] the wait is almost over."
Contrary to speculation by Computerworld earlier today, Microsoft did not announce availability of a public preview of Office 2013, the next-generation productivity suite that the company currently calls "Office 15."
Kurt DelBene, president of the Office division, said only that more Office 15 information would be coming "later this summer."
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 email@example.com.