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Will Windows 8 undercut Microsoft's other OSes?

Microsoft appears on track to deliver Windows 8 next year. But will an on-time delivery be a bad thing for best-selling Windows 7?

Rumors continue to intensify about Microsoft getting ready to show off a pre-beta build of Windows 8 at its Worldwide Partner Conference next week in Los Angeles. If the company does demo it, it will be interesting to see what shape the code is in.

It makes sense to offer even just a glimpse of Windows 8 at the conference, since Microsoft depends heavily on the channel for the long-term success of its operating systems. The move would also fit in with CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote focusing on Microsoft's roadmap extending into next year.

And a pre-beta demo at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) would be an appropriate stage-setter for what many believe will be delivery of Microsoft's first beta release of the upcoming OS at its Build developer conference in mid-September.

If the vendor does demonstrate Windows 8, we'll see if company officials can explain how IT shops can use the product's tile-based interface and touch-centric capabilities to their advantage (they appear more suited to smartphones).

In addition, Microsoft officials may talk about whether Hyper-V 3.0 is present in the early code. Last year, they said it would never appear in a client version of Windows. But a build of Windows 8 that leaked out late last month, in fact, did have it along with a new virtual hard drive format called VHDX.

Analysts last week speculated that Hyper-V 3.0 was in Windows 8 because, without it, the company was having trouble conducting compatibility tests for Windows 7 applications. Some said they wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft leaves it in the finished version.

So, if the Windows 8 code is in good shape and the product's one and only beta release (Microsoft has said there likely will not be a second beta) goes well, then recent rumors about the finished version arriving next spring could prove true. But that's one of those things you believe only when you see it.

But for once, delivering a new OS without a hitch may not be a good thing for Microsoft when its predecessor is still doing well. Just a couple of months ago, Microsoft announced that it had sold 350 million copies of Windows 7 in the first 18 months of its availability.

In a recent report, market research firm IDC said Microsoft sold 7 million copies of Windows 7 to business users in 2009, 102 million in 2010 and an estimated 113 million in 2011. IDC estimates that over 90% of businesses are currently at some stage of migrating to Windows 7.

So, why would Microsoft deliver Windows 8 in the first half of 2012, when that would place second thoughts in the minds of millions of Windows XP users poised to jump to Windows 7? It could squash a lot of the momentum Windows 7 might generate through next year.

What could further slow Windows 7 momentum is the fact that Microsoft sold some 40 million copies of Windows XP in 2010. A lot of people would have no problem buying more XP over the next year or two until they can decide whether to buy Windows 7 or 8.

Maybe next week's WPC or the Build conference will give Microsoft a chance to offer some guidance on this topic as well.

Let us know what you think about this story; email Ed Scannell at

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