Looks like Windows 8 will finally be ready for prime time this holiday

Credit: Microsoft Sweden via Flickr

Microsoft launched Windows 8 in time for the holidays last year, but you’ll have to wait until the 2013 holiday shopping season to get a good selection of machines and fixes that address complaints about the software.

That was the message from Tami Reller, chief marketing and financial officer for the Windows division, who spoke this morning at a JP Morgan tech conference.

During her opening remarks, she revealed that Windows Blue, the code name for an update to the software expected to incorporate a Start button into Windows 8, will be a free update for users. It will be officially called Windows 8.1.

She confirmed that there will be a preview of Windows 8.1 during the company’s Build conference in late June, at which time we’ll likely learn more details about what exactly will be in the update.

Reller danced around the subject of when exactly Windows 8.1 will become available for customers but implied it’ll be released around the holidays. “We’re sensitive to the timing of the holidays and what that means for getting the update out,” she said. “We understand when the holidays are. We want to underscore that.”

She also said that supply issues that have held back the availability of more touch screen devices – which Windows 8 was designed to enable – is getting better but won’t be totally solved until later this year. “We see that touch supply is getting so much better. By the holidays we won’t see the types of restrictions we’ve seen on the ability of our partners and retail partners to get touch in the volume they’d like and that customers are demanding,” she said.

Touch screen supply constraints were blamed for a lack of variety of interesting form factors when Windows 8 launched last year. A quick development cycle for the operating system also meant that OEMs may not have had the time that they typically do to develop new products. But many people thought that those issues would be solved in the first few months of this year.

The situation has improved since launch. One-third of the Windows 8 machines on shelves at Best Buy have touch screens, Reller said. And some touch laptops are selling for just over $400, she said. At launch, few touch Windows 8 laptops were available for less than $1,000.

Still, she suggested that the best variety won’t be out for several more months yet.

That feels like a very long process for rolling out a new product.

But Microsoft may be counting on its strong position in the enterprise to carry it through.

Many businesses have only just upgraded to Windows 7. Reller said that two-thirds of enterprise desktop deployments are now Windows 7. “We’ve said to enterprises to continue on their Windows 7 deployment path. We want them to be successful on Windows 7, especially with XP end of life around the corner. Then for Windows 8, we recommend you evaluate the tablets coming out and other new device types coming out,” she said.

Many enterprise customers are doing that, piloting some of the new x86 tablets from OEMs like HP and Dell, she said.

The enterprise is a huge market for Microsoft and many big businesses will surely ultimately adopt Windows 8. Since large businesses are often very slow to implement new technologies, this delay in the availability of a wider range of Windows 8 machines isn’t slowing down their plans. Some are even ditching plans to use iPads in favor of Windows 8 products.

But it does impact the consumer market, which increasingly influences the kinds of devices that are used in the enterprise. Without compelling Windows 8 devices on store shelves, consumers have more reason to buy products from competitors like Apple and Google. Microsoft will only have so many holiday shopping seasons to convince consumers that it will get it right.

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