Microsoft revealed this week that it expects to deliver Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 to manufacturing in the first week of August, with general availability of the products due in late October and September, respectively. This schedule closely follows that of these products' predecessors, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, which were similarly hurtling towards completion three years ago this month. And given the way Microsoft does things these days, it is perhaps instructive to look back on that time to gain some insights on what might happen this year.

First, the official word: On Monday, Microsoft announced it was “on track” to release Windows 8 to manufacturing in the first week of August. Furthermore, the software giant plans to make Windows 8 available to customers via new PC purchases and software upgrades “at the end of October.”

As I noted in my news article about this event, that publicly announced RTM schedule is later than what Microsoft has been discussing internally. My sources tell me that Windows 8 will enter escrow on July 12 and will RTM sometime between then and July 21. So my suspicion is that the announced RTM date was artificially pushed back so Microsoft could exceed expectations by delivering it early, as they did with the previous milestone, the Release Preview.

What happened three years ago?

On July 22, 2009, exactly three years to the July 21 date mentioned above (factoring in the leap year), Microsoft announced the RTM of both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. The company also revealed that its volume license customers, and MSDN and TechNet subscribers would get first access, getting to the product, with Windows 7 being delivered to MSDN/TechNet on August 6 and to volume license customers on August 7, and Windows Server 2008 R2 going out in the second half of August. I think these dates are therefore roughly what we can expect for Windows 8 this year.

The final build of Windows 7 was 7600, though it was artificially bumped up from the 72xx range late in development for some reason. Today, Microsoft is testing 85xx builds of Windows 8, so it’s logical to assume that Windows 8’s build number will be artificially bumped up to 8600 for the symmetry or, better yet, to 8800.

That final build of Windows 7, by the way, was dated July 10, 2009. So even though Microsoft officially RTM’d the product on July 22, about 12 days later, the build was far older. This process will repeat itself for Windows 8. So whatever day the announcement is made will trail the actual completion date of the code by about two weeks. Again, that July 12/21 thing is the official internal schedule. Or at least it was. See how it matches up with what happened with Windows 7?

Microsoft released an evaluation version of Windows 7 Professional for IT Professionals via the Springboard Series shortly after RTM. One might expect a similar release for Windows 8.

PC makers received Windows 7 RTM software images about two days after Microsoft officially declared RTM. This schedule is sort of meaningless but when you think about the delta between RTM (early August) and GA (general availability, late October), a difference of almost three months, one has to be believe that it is the PC makers that are responsible.

With Windows 7, the big controversy was whether users would be able to easily do a clean install of the OS with the Upgrade versions of the product. This was confusing because Microsoft never came clean on this topic, which was of course a big deal for upgraders. (And let the record show that a record number of users upgraded to Windows 7, making this even a bigger deal.) I eventually set the record straight in Clean Install Windows 7 With Upgrade Media, one of my most-read articles. This time around, Microsoft is temporarily offering a $40 upgrade offer to Windows 8 Pro to virtually everyone on earth: You can do this from Windows XP with SP3, Vista, or 7, and perhaps even from Windows 8 Release Preview, though technically speaking the process could involve a clean install, upgrade, or migration depending on numerous factors. Will it actually work? Will Setup check for Product Activation, etc.? We don’t know. Not yet.

And of course we have the biggest, most important question of all: Will Microsoft sponsor Windows 8 parties as it did for Windows 7?? Inquiring minds want to know. :)

Looking forward, it’s hard to escape the fact that the new Metro environment in Windows 8, while an interesting and surprisingly usable mobile experience, is still a 1.0 release. And that means that the three year Windows development schedule is now obsolete. I fully expect that Microsoft will address that very real issue by releasing yearly updates to Windows 8, perhaps over this three year period until Windows 9 is ready, and that these updates will happen in a fairly streamlined fashion and won’t require major upgrades as with full Windows versions, Service Packs, Feature Packs, or other existing methods. How they will do this remains a mystery. But Microsoft will not let Windows 8 sit unchanged for three years.