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Microsoft Corp. will release Windows 8 operating system for tablets next year, according to sources with knowledge of the company's plans cited by Bloomberg news-agency. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the world's largest software maker will only be in position to launch the new OS late in the year.

Microsoft Windows 8 will be the first major version of Windows that will support microprocessors based on ARM architecture and will also be the first "big" Windows to be suited for touch screens. Public testing of a new version of Windows will begin at the end of this year with partners and customers, according to the news-agency.

While it is believed that Windows 8 is scheduled to be released in 2013 and therefore the launch in 2012 will be ahead of schedule, it may still be too late. Apple's iOS and Google Android already support tablets and will be shipped in tens of millions of devices already in 2011 and 2012.

“If 2011 is the year of the tablet wars, Microsoft will be awfully late suiting up for that battle. It’s not a good position to be in. [...] Battle lines are being drawn, land is being grabbed, users are being evangelized and spending money,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for research firm Gartner.

Gartner is lowering its PC unit forecast for 2011 and 2012, based on expectations of weaker demand for mobile consumer PCs. Worldwide PC shipments are forecast to reach 387.8 million units in 2011, a 10.5% increase from 2010, according to Gartner's preliminary forecast. This is down from Gartner's previous projection of 15.9% growth this year. Gartner expects worldwide PC shipments to total 440.6 million units in 2012, a 13.6% increase from 2011. This is down from Gartner's previous outlook of 14.8% growth for 2012.

Consumer enthusiasm for media tablets is a key factor in Gartner's forecast that the consumer mobile PC market will remain weak in mature markets. Consumer substitution of media tablets for mobile PCs already appears to be impacting mobile PC shipments in mature markets. However, a bigger issue seems to be that consumers are taking a "wait and see" attitude toward PCs as they anticipate the arrival of new media tablets during the rest of 2011.

Microsoft did not comment on the news-story.

Tags: Microsoft, Windows, iPad, iOS, Apple, Android, Google

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