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Win8 beta to surface in Feb 2012 - Microsoft exec

Attention ARM users: no desktop apps for you

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The Windows 8 beta is coming in February, if a Microsoft exec launching the Windows 8 Store is to be believed.

Antoine Leblond, vice-president of Windows web services, gave the date at the end of a preview of the app store in San Francisco, California, this week and after pitching market opportunities available to devs who get onboard.

Leblond said: "We're going to open the store to customers when we release the beta of Windows 8, and that's going to be in late February 2012.”

You can watch the video here.

So far, Microsoft’s not given any date for the Windows 8 beta although reports have been circulation of a test-drive build either in January or February next year. Microsoft hasn't followed up on Leblond's comments.

Does this mean we can finally begin to see the start of Microsoft’s actual response to Apple’s iPad and to tablets consumer electronics firms running Android? Yes, give or take.

From a timing perspective, if February is the date, you should expect Windows 8 devices going on sale in August 2012. Based on past Microsoft production schedules, there's a release candidate three months after the beta with final release of operating system and OEM devices three months after the release canidate.

August would be a decent time for Microsoft to drop Windows 8 tablets on the market. It would enable the company to target the lucrative back-to-school student shoppers and feed into the Christmas holiday period later that year.

All this means Windows 8 tablets would come online about two and a half years after the iPad from Apple; they’d also come into a complex world of tablet diversification, with the Kindle from Amazon and devices running Google's Android.

Don't forget the tale of the hare and the tortoise

Even recent history teaches us that Microsoft can be as late and slow as it likes, but that it can still come out on top. Netbooks offered brief hope for Linux distros, but became a market about 90 per cent dominated by Windows. They ran an old version of Windows that Microsoft would rather had gone away because it took business away from Windows Vista and then Windows 7, but – hey – it was Windows, and a platform sell is a platform sell in the battle against Linux.

Microsoft prevailed because it offered an operating system the netbook makers knew from their PC past with the applications the mainstream consumers knew.

It’s less certain whether Windows 8 can repeat this success because some Windows 8 tablets won’t come with the familiar applications. Specifically, if Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrot is right, the desktop apps are getting cut from the ARM tablets.

Back in January 2011, Microsoft’s Windows chief Steven Sinofsky had suggested compatibility of x86 apps on ARM wouldn’t be a big deal.

The question is, whether it’s just the ARM fondleslabs or the x86 tablets too that’ll go without familiar software titles. If the former, this suggests Microsoft was unable to get the apps running on ARM as it liked or was unwilling to push too hard in case this upset PC partner Intel; Microsoft has decided ARM will now be used for devices such as book readers instead of all-in-one tablets. These reader-like devices will be fed by the web while x86 tablets would act like laptops or the iPad, with locally resident apps and software fed in from the Windows Store.

Even Microsoft recognises this could mean a problem. Sinofsky in August reckoned “some people” were afraid Microsoft would just flip a switch and turn everything into the brand-new Windows 8 Metro UI. Sinfosky said here:

We knew as we designed the Windows 8 UI that you can’t just flip a bit overnight and turn all of that history into something new. In fact, that is exactly what some people are afraid of us doing. Some have said that is the only path to take. Yet, even those who have fully embraced tablets also own a laptop for those times when they need more precise control or need to use one of the apps that are mission critical (and are still being developed).

Judging by Leblond’s presentation, Microsoft might be pushing tablets but it’s steering developers in the direction of x86 instead of ARM. Leblond quoted Gartner's claim of 400 million “x86-based units” to ship during the next 12 months. That could, of course, include tablets as well as regular PCs.

When Microsoft delivers Windows 8, the company will need to be nuanced and nimble. Reports suggest demand for the all-in-one device is dropping while others say that the iPad, which can serve as a reader, is now actually losing business to Amazon’s Kindle reader. The market is shifting and Microsoft must shift too. Just delivering Windows 8 and leaving it up to others to innovate and build won't be enough to keep up.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, though, as we pointed out here it must dance with the same PC makers who’ve made a hash of their first challenge to Apple. ®

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