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Tiny pile of Windows 8 ARM slabs slated for October

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It’s not the timing but the numbers that are really interesting when it comes to Windows 8’s planned delivery.

Bloomberg reports Microsoft is planning to “finish work on Windows 8 this summer” with the client operating system going on sale “around” October. People of few words, it’s often said, are more direct: Bloomberg couldn’t have been more vague with its talk of “finish work”, “summer” and “around” October.

Fortunately, we have precedent to help keep us from losing our heads.

Windows 7 was released to manufacturing (RTM) in July 2009. RTM is when Redmond’s code jockeys sign off on the bits and hand them over to PC makers and DVD burners to start putting it on computers and squeezing it into boxes and download sites. Windows 7 was officially launched three months later, in October. Before that, Windows XP was RTM'd in August 2001 and officially went on sale in October.

We’ve been talking about just this release schedule with All-About-Microsoft blogger Mary Jo Foley, in the upcoming edition of MicroBite (now available here).

Microsoft missed this once in recent history: with Windows Vista, which had a staggered launch in November for businesses and was then pushed out to consumers in January.

As ever with Windows 8, Microsoft wants an October sales kick-off to be in position for the traditionally lucrative Christmas shopping season.

Some are talking about Windows 8 slipping into 2013. Don’t bet on it. For this to happen would require a substantial re-write or re-working caused by bugs or a change in features in response to feedback. You can forget campaigns like this based on difficulty using charms and the ditching of the start menu.

According to those driving it, Windows 8 is substantially done, done to the point that what is actually a beta – the Windows 8 consumer preview launched in February – has been re-branded as a "preview" by Microsoft.

What’s unique this time is that Windows 8 will arrive not just on Intel and AMD x86, but – for the first time – on ARM. And, if Bloomberg is correct, it would seem there won’t be a lot of ARM-based devices in circulation – at least initially.

There will be “fewer” than five ARM devices versus 40 Intel machines.

“Fewer” – more vagueness – but the underlying point is clear: for all Microsoft’s talk about Windows on ARM (WOA) as the next evolution in Windows, WOA won’t be hitting the channel like some new x86. Instead, it plays more to what we’ve been saying here for months – and to what was hinted at by Microsoft’s chief operating officer Kevin Turner Monday: WOA will be for locked down, use-specific devices like ereaders rather than for general purpose machines.

Just like a Kindle, where we know you won’t be able to install another operating system or third-party apps, we also know WOA won’t be available through retail.

With “fewer” than five devices coming out – somewhere between one and four – we can speculate that WOA, despite Microsoft’s bluster, is still an experimental technology and market. And not just for Microsoft, which wants to see how it works first. Just like the first versions of the rebooted Windows Phone, Microsoft is keeping the form factor options locked down and is excluding third party apps to make sure it works and doesn’t suffer any embarrassing crashes.

WOA is an experimental technology for partners, too. They will be approaching this thing conservatively, to see how it works and measure its reception as an indicator of future growth – not just among end-user consumers, but also among developers who will be building the apps.

This also means, that for all the excitement about Windows 8 tablets in time for Christmas 2012, it’ll mostly be slabs running good-old-x86 that Microsoft has to throw at the iPad rather than ARM. The difference is ARM was embraced because it potentially meant the kinds of lighter and more energy efficient and tablets with a longer battery life against the iPad that Intel couldn't match.

If Microsoft is putting less than five WOA tablets into the market – of which, let’s say one is a reader – for Christmas, then it will have fired a blank against Apple.

Windows is a volume business, but it looks like WOA won’t have the volume needed to make a difference for Microsoft against the iPad in 2012. If WOA does come in October, then Microsoft will have scored a symbolic victory and 2013 could be considered the actual launch date. ®

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