Microsoft has up until now specifically avoided naming the next release of Windows, but in a speech to developers in Japan Steve Ballmer let the cat out of the bag.
Windows 8 isn't exactly a secret. Microsoft has been slowly releasing dribs and drabs about Windows 7's successor ever since a blog post back in October 2010 first alluded to the company's next major operating system.
But up until today, the biggest news to date had been what Microsoft disclosed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier in the year: namely that the next version of Windows will include support for System on a Chip architectures - including low-power ARM CPUs that feature widely in smartphones and tablets.
What this signalled was that Microsoft has serious intentions about migrating its flagship Windows ("desktop") OS into the mobile consumer tech world (in addition to the already smartphone-specific variants, such as Windows Phone 7 and the former Windows Mobile).
Until now, however, the company had stayed pretty tight-lipped about certain key details of the new OS, refraining from confirming the name for it and only giving loose hints about when we should expect it to see the light of day.
But overnight, in a speech at the Microsoft Developers Forum in Tokyo, the company's CEO, Steve Ballmer, indicated that "Windows 8" will emerge in 2012. Here's what he said, the full text of which is available online at Microsoft's News Center
"We're obviously hard at work on the next version of Windows. Windows 7 PCs will sell over 350 million units this year. We've done a lot in Windows 7 to improve customer satisfaction. We have a brand new user interface. We've added touch, and ink, and speech. And yet, as we look forward to the next generation of Windows systems, which will come out next year, there's a whole lot more coming. 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."
While still somewhat vague, the specific name and timing details disclosed in Ballmer's speech could be considered a ramping up of Windows 8's pre-release publicity, provided the "next generation of Windows systems" to which Ballmer refers indeed means Windows 8 (it's a bit hard to tell). However, many online pundits believe the announcements were actually a gaffe, with the CEO revealing more than he was supposed to.
Indeed, this latter interpretation was semi-confirmed by Microsoft spokespeople, who later clarified the corporate position to Business Insider
: "It appears there was a misstatement. We are eagerly awaiting the next generation of Windows 7 hardware that will be available in the coming fiscal year. To date, we have yet to formally announce any timing or naming for the next version of Windows."
In any case, Microsoft, whose public perception has suffered a bit in the past year as former tech rivals Apple and IBM overtook it in market capital (with Apple now enjoying more revenue and profits too), would seem to have a few next-gen tricks up its sleeve for next year. Whether we're supposed to know about it or not.