Windows 8 will arrive on October 26.
That’s the official word from Microsoft, or at least Windows division president Steven Sinofsky, who announced the general-availability date at the company’s annual sales meeting.
A late-October release puts Windows 8 on store shelves just ahead of the all-important holiday shopping season. Microsoft attempted a similar strategy with Windows 7, which it released on Oct. 22, 2009.
However, Windows 8 is somewhat of a riskier bet than Windows 7. The latter was a long-awaited refresh of the Windows experience, coming nearly eight years after the release of Windows XP in 2001; Windows Vista, released in January 2007, had met with a strong wave of initial criticism over many of its features. Businesses and consumers wanted a new operating system—and they turned out in droves, with Windows 7 eventually selling hundreds of millions of copies.
Windows 8, on the other hand, will arrive on the market relatively soon after Windows 7—forcing customers to debate over whether they want to upgrade from a perfectly fine operating system to one with some major changes. For starters, Windows 8’s Start screen centers on a set of colorful tiles linked to applications, with the “traditional” desktop interface buried one layer behind it. That tile-centricity, at least in theory, makes Windows 8 an equally adept OS for both touch-based devices such as tablets and “regular” laptops and desktops.
Windows 8 also features more cloud integration than previous versions—which stands to reason, since “cloud computing” is a relatively new mainstream concept. There’s tighter integration with Microsoft’s SkyDrive hub, and a built-in app store; the next version of Office, which will presumably find its way onto many a Windows 8 machine, doubles down on this cloud functionality with features such as online syncing.
Microsoft is betting big that Windows 8 will appeal equally to power users and to those who want a lightweight OS powering their tablet or other mobile device. This stance, though, effectively dumps Windows out of the traditional OS pool—where it pretty much dominates—and into the shark tank with the cloud-centric Apple iOS, Google Android, and (to a much lesser extent) Chrome OS. Can Windows 8 win in this brave new world? After October 26, everyone will find out.