[caption id="attachment_2401" align="aligncenter" width="580"] Windows 8's App Store.[/caption] Microsoft has finally offered up some very important dates related to Windows 8: the upcoming operating system will Release to Manufacturing (RTM) during the first week of August, with general availability by the end of October. Windows Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Financial Officer Tami Reller revealed those dates during the opening of Microsoft’s annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto, Canada. She added that Windows 8, when available, will appear in 231 markets worldwide. Those dates shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows Microsoft closely. Windows 7 and Windows XP both launched in October, ahead of the all-important holiday shopping season. If anything Windows 8 represents an equally substantial bet for Microsoft: by fronting the user interface with a Start screen composed of large, colorful tiles linked to applications, the company hopes the new operating system will play equally well on touch-screen tablets and mouse-and-keyboard PCs—shoring up Windows’ hold on the traditional operating-system market while making inroads against the Apple iPad. In addition to Windows 8, Microsoft is also releasing Windows RT, a version of the operating system designed to run on hardware built atop ARM architecture. Considering how the majority of mobile devices (including tablets and smartphones) rely on ARM, forking Windows could turn out to be a decisive move in spreading the operating system onto new platforms. Besides customers and hardware manufacturers, another subset is awaiting Windows 8’s release: developers, whose apps Microsoft desperately needs if it wants to build an all-important software ecosystem around the upgraded Windows platform. Many of those apps will leverage some aspect of data crunching, whether a CRM platform tracking sales or an enterprise search engine of some sort. Business apps with a significant data component have already helped transform smartphones from useful devices into, well, even more useful devices. And make no mistake about it: Microsoft needs those business users if it wants Windows 8 to become any sort of success, especially considering how much of the company’s business derives from corporate users. That means B.I. and data-crunching apps in Windows 8’s built-in app store. Microsoft has been encouraging developers for months to consider building for the Windows 8 platform; but it remains to be seen, with a launch date firmly in sight, whether they’ll actually start building those apps.   Image: Microsoft