Dropping Names: Microsoft's Ballmer References 'Windows 8' In Speech

That may not come as a big surprise to most. But given Microsoft's tight-lipped approach about any details about the next version of the company's flagship software, the confirmation of those two bits of information by CEO Steve Ballmer in a speech at the Microsoft Developer Forum in Tokyo Monday were a major disclosure.

"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 said, according to a transcript of his speech posted on Microsoft's Website.

Ballmer's specific reference to "Windows 8" is the first confirmation by a high-level Microsoft executive that the next Windows release will take that name. And while most observers have believed that 2012 was the most likely timeframe for its debut, Ballmer's use of "next year" is the first confirmation of that schedule.

Microsoft generally keeps such information a tightly guarded secret – witness last week's dustup between Microsoft and Intel when an Intel executive said that Microsoft is developing multiple versions of Windows 8 to run on ARM Systems-on-a-Chip processors from Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Microsoft called those statements "factually inaccurate" and "misleading," without specifically saying how.

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Microsoft media relations issued a statement saying: "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."

Microsoft began shipping Windows 7 in October 2009 and, as Ballmer noted in his speech, has been a big success for Microsoft. About 240 million licenses have been sold so far and Ballmer said more than 350 million units will be sold this year. But given the difficulty the company has had in convincing many customers to upgrade from the decade-old Windows XP, getting customers to move up to Windows 8 from a relatively young Windows 7 won't be easy.