Microsoft has been relatively tight-lipped about the next version of Windows. Most of the information available publicly is from leaked screenshots and videos. Therefore, it was a surprise to many today that Steve Ballmer openly discussed the next version of Windows and officially referred to it as "Windows 8."
Prior to today's announcement, Microsoft had never confirmed that the next version of Windows would be called Windows 8. Many top executives instead referred to it as "Windows Next." Mary Jo Foley spotted the reference in a press transcript issued by Microsoft from Microsoft's Developer Forum in Japan:
"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."
Ballmer's reference to Windows 8 being available next year for a variety of form factors highlights Microsoft's attempt to push the Windows platform to a multitude of devices to combat the increasing competition from tablets such as the iPad.
Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky is also slated to speak at the ninth D: All Things Digital conference. The talk is expected to revolve around the future of Windows in an era of competing cloud services and the rapid growth of smartphones and tablets. Sinofsky is expected to demonstrate some of the features of Windows 8 at the conference.
The expectation of many observers is that Microsoft will deliver the beta of Windows 8 later this year at the Windows Developer Conference in September. The RTM of Windows 8 can now be confirmed to be in 2012 with a target of reaching the 2012 holiday sales.