By – Saad Khan
Been waiting for something a bit more polished than the Windows 8 Consumer Preview before taking the new OS for a test drive? You don’t have much longer to wait. According to Microsoft, you’ll be able to download the Windows 8 Release Preview by the first week of June.
As they always do, Microsoft will be offering customers free (or discounted) upgrades to Windows 8 in the run-up to its retail launch later this year. Those upgrades, of course, will be offered up to shoppers who purchase a new Windows 7 PC from a participating vendor after a specific date.
Computers with Windows 8 pre-installed will begin hitting retail shelves some time this fall — and by the end of next year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says it’ll be running on half a billion computers worldwide.
Microsoft sold around 240 million copies of Windows 7 in its first year of availability.
It’s also probably Microsoft’s best operating system to date, and one that a lot of customers won’t feel the need to upgrade from — a situation that hearkens back to Windows XP and the arrival of Vista. But Microsoft holds a wildcard with Windows 8: tablets.
Windows devices are on their way, and there will be no shortage of the new low-priced ARM-powered tablets, laptops, and desktop machines to choose from. Analysts from IDC and Gartner previously announced estimates of about 430 million PCs sold in 2013. Tablet sales are expected to exceed that figure, which means a total of nearly a billion devices that could ship with Windows 8. They won’t, obviously — plenty will ship with Android, and iPad and Mac sales will command a sizeable share.
But if Microsoft can convince a decent number of users to upgrade to Windows 8, drive solid 2012 holiday sales, get around 80 per cent of new desktops and laptops running it (as they did with Windows 7), and grab a good chunk of the 180-plus million tablets expected to sell in 2013, then 500 million devices might not be as far fetched as it first sounds.