The OS will be released to manufacturing in the first week of August, and new systems running the software will be generally available to the public by the end of October. The news was announced by Tami Reller, CFO for Microsoft's Windows group, at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.
Enterprises will be able to start downloading final Windows 8 bits "as early as August," said Reller, who added that more than 50% of enterprises have already upgraded to Windows 7. Windows 8 will be available in 105 languages in more than 200 markets.
The new operating system will be available in just four editions: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Enterprise, and Windows 8 RT. The last is Microsoft's official name for Windows On ARM, which will run on tablet chips manufactured by Qualcomm, Motorola, and Nvidia. By comparison, Windows 7 was available in six editions, including Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise.
[ Start making plans to upgrade. Read Windows 8 Upgrade FAQ: How To Go Metro. ]
Users of Windows XP, Windows 7, or Windows Vista will be able to purchase and download Windows 8 Pro for just $39.99. The upgrade program, which starts with Windows 8's general availability in October and runs through January 31, 2013, also lets users install Windows Media Center for free once they've completed the upgrade.
The upgrade experience will differ depending on which version of Windows users are currently running. Windows 7 to Windows 8 offers the most seamless upgrade, as users' settings, personal files, and apps will remain intact. From Windows Vista, settings and personal files are preserved, and from XP, only personal files will make the jump, although apps can be reinstalled after the upgrade is complete.
Microsoft's push to get users onto Windows 8 isn't surprising. The OS represents the biggest break with previous versions since the debut of Windows 95, which introduced the Start button, Task Bar, and other Windows staples. Windows 8 replaces the Start screen with Live Tiles, part of Microsoft's new Metro interface. Microsoft is counting on Metro to give its products a consistent look and feel across smartphones, tablets, and PCs.
"What we seek to have is a spectrum of stunning devices" running Windows 8, said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, during his keynote Monday at the WPC conference.
At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference, C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.