During a San Francisco developers event held on Tuesday, Microsoft confirmed that it will release a public beta of Windows 8 in late February 2012 instead of the early January date indicated by a recently leaked roadmap. The news arrived as Antoine Leblond, vice president of Windows Web services, introduced the upcoming Windows Store to the press.
So far the new tablet-console-friendly OS seems to be on track for a full retail release in Fall 2012 based on the beta's February launch. Given that Microsoft released a public beta of Windows 7 back in January 2009, there was speculation that the Redmond company was sticking to the same schedule. Yet the Developer Preview launched a month earlier (on September 13) than Windows 7's October distribution. That said, comparing the two release schedules seems to be somewhat pointless.
According to Microsoft, more than 13 million copies of the Windows 8 Developer Preview (opens in new tab) had been downloaded since its release back in the fall. California-based Net Applications said that -- based on the Developer Preview downloads -- Windows 8 already accounts for three-hundredths of 1-percent of all PCs accessing the Internet. That's reportedly one-fourth the number of Windows 2000-powered PCs and half the number of Windows 98 PCs.
Despite the beta announcement, Tuesday's event was focused on Microsoft's app market simply called Windows Store. It will open its doors at the launch of the Windows 8 Public Beta and only offer free apps. Previous reports indicated that the storefront will only provide Metro-style applications, and that legacy applications for Windows 7 and later will only have a landing page that links back to the software publisher.
On Tuesday Microsoft also launched the Windows 8 First Apps Contest, challenging developers to create Metro-style apps that will be chosen as launch applications in Windows Store in February. Winning developers will not only get a front-row seat on opening day, but a Samsung Windows Developer Preview PC from the BUILD conference, a year of Windows Azure, and a two-year subscription to the Store. The deadline for submitting a Metro app to the contest is Jan. 8, 2012, so get busy.