Microsoft will likely release Windows 8, the next version of its long-running operating system franchise, sometime in the latter half of 2012. For those who can't wait months to get their hands on the final release version, signs are good that Microsoft will release the Windows 8 Consumer Preview (a fancy term for beta) at the very end of February. In addition to the traditional desktop that defined previous Windows releases, Windows 8 features a "start" screen of colorful tiles linked to applications-the better to port the operating system onto tablets. Microsoft hopes that Windows 8 will appeal to the widest possible audience wielding everything from 9-inch touch-screens to desktops and laptops. With that attempt to port Windows 8 onto a broad range of hardware, however, comes a unique challenge:
It will face more competitors than ever. While Windows has long ruled the market for traditional operating systems, it enters a tablet arena dominated by Apple's iPad and crowded with a variety of tablets running Google Android. Nor are Microsoft's challengers external: Windows 7 has sold hundreds of millions of licenses in the three years since its release, and Windows XP continues to run on millions of antiquated machines. In light of that, Microsoft will need to make the case that Windows 8 is not only superior to rival software on the market, but that Windows users should shell out the money to upgrade.