said Wednesday that it has handed off the final code for Windows 8 to its computing device partners. Software developers and IT professionals will be able to download the next-generation operating system beginning Aug. 15.
With respect to achieving its release-to-manufacturing (RTM) milestone, Microsoft appears to be on track, said Al Hilwa, director of development research at IDC.
"The distance between RTM and availability of devices is roughly in line with what happened with Windows 7," Hilwa told us Wednesday. "Windows 8 requires significant new investment in applications to be successful as a tablet device [and] it looks like all the ducks are lining up for developers to have an unprecedented opportunity."
Given the lead time between when production tools are available, and looking at the existing energy, Hilwa said he would not be surprised to see several thousand Win 8 apps ready for download when the next-generation OS becomes available to consumers on Oct. 26.
"My expectation is that the build out will be rapid in the first few months," Hilwa said. "Whether a second phase of acceleration kicks in by early spring will largely depend on the assessment of how touch devices are selling."
PC Market Impact
Given that PC growth remained flat in the second quarter of this year, we asked Mika Kitagawa -- a principal analyst at Gartner -- whether the long delay between now and the consumer release of Windows 8 would hurt consumer PC sales in the third quarter.
"In general, a new OS release will have minimum effect on demand side in the consumer market as [it] does not stimulate additional PC demand," Kitagawa told us. "If a consumer needs to buy new PCs now because of some reasons, such as a broken PC or aged PC, then the consumer might wait for a few more months to buy."
We also asked Kitagawa whether the new touchscreen capabilities built into Windows 8 might cause some consumers to postpone their PC purchases until the Win 8 machines debut.
"I personally doubt that touch will create additional PC demand," she said. "It is a good function" but does not appear to offer enough "to drive additional PC demand. Plus, I don't think consumers are aware of W8's new features like touch and the Metro user interface at this point."
Gartner does expect third-quarter PC sales to decline for other reasons.
"We will see a dip in the third quarter of 2012 and an uptake in the fourth quarter since the supply side wants to control inventory before W8 machine release," Kitagawa said.
The big question is whether the relatively large shipments with Win 8 will match up with consumers' PC demand during this year's holiday sales season.
"If not, then inventory level will go up, and first-half 2013 shipment growth will be stagnant," she said.
On the business front, Microsoft is recommending that customers in the process of deploying Windows 7 continue with those deployments.
"There is great compatibility between Windows 7 and Windows 8, and this will make it easier for customers to start adopting Windows 8 side-by-side with Windows 7," said Erwin Visser, Microsoft's senior director of Windows client marketing. "For customers running Windows XP or Windows Vista, and still early in your deployment process, we recommend you start your Windows 8 deployment planning."
Above all, Visser is advising enterprise IT managers to begin evaluating how Windows 8 will change the way their companies conduct business right now through the introduction of new tablet experiences as well as desktop virtualization and other new features such as Windows To Go, enhanced security and DirectAccess.
"Every customer scenario is unique as well, making Windows 8 one of the most personalized operating systems for business customers -- and their employees -- yet," Visser said.