Ballmer: 'Windows 8 is coming!' Microsoft: 'Eek!'

@CNNMoneyTech May 27, 2011: 10:28 AM ET
Steve Ballmer (right) spoke with Microsoft Developer Lead Akihiro Oba in Tokyo about Windows 8 this week.

Steve Ballmer (right) spoke with Microsoft Developer Lead Akihiro Oba in Tokyo about Windows 8 this week.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week let slip what was already a poorly kept secret: Windows 8 will go on sale next year.

But that's not a message Microsoft wants to let out so soon, apparently: The company issued a retraction shortly after Ballmer's speech.

Windows 7 had been the fastest-selling version of Windows ever, but sales started to slump last quarter. Knowledge that a new product is on its way may soften demand even further, analysts say.

At a developers conference in Tokyo earlier this week, Ballmer spoke about Microsoft's current product successes as a launching point to talk about what he believes will be an even brighter future. When he came to Windows 7, he noted that the next version of Windows will be even better.

"We're obviously hard at work on the next version of Windows," said Ballmer said, according to a transcript. "As we look forward to the next generation of Windows systems, which will come out next year, there's a whole lot more coming. As we progress through the year, you ought to expect to hear a lot about Windows 8. Windows 8 slates, tablets, PCs, a variety of different form factors."

Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) declined to comment to CNNMoney about Ballmer's remarks, but many news organizations received an amusing backtracking statement from the company's PR team earlier in the week.

"It appears there was a misstatement," Microsoft's representatives told CNET, PC Magazine and others. "We are eagerly awaiting the next generation of Windows 7 hardware that will be available in the coming fiscal year. To date, we have yet to formally announce any timing or naming for the next version of Windows."

Until this week, Microsoft's top brass have been unusually secretive about Windows 8. The company is typically is unafraid to discuss or even release beta versions to the public, but this time it's working quietly.

Ballmer's speech was even the first time a Microsoft executive publicly called the product "Windows 8." Microsoft hadn't officially confirmed the name of its next Windows iteration -- internally, Microsoft refers to it as "Windows.Next," though many Microsoft employees on LinkedIn refer to the new OS as Windows 8.

It's understandable if Microsoft is hesitant to give consumers and businesses any reason to put off their purchases of Windows. But it's more than a little unusual that the company is going to such lengths as to call the CEO's long, articulate comment about Windows 8 a "misstatement." To top of page

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