At a developer forum in Tokyo, Japan on Monday, Ballmer used the name "Windows 8" in public for the first time.
"We're obviously hard at work on the next version of Windows. Windows 7 PCs will sell over 350 million units this year. We've done a lot in Windows 7 to improve customer satisfaction. We have a brand new user interface. We've added touch, and ink, and speech," the company's official transcript reported Ballmer as saying.
"And yet, 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," he continued.
However, Ballmer may have said too much, as Microsoft has retracted the comments, as noted by Gregg Keizer of InfoWorld.
"It appears there was a misstatement," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement the company issued. "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." Microsoft's 2011 fiscal year ends on June 30.
According to the report, Microsoft has kept quiet about the names of previous Windows versions. Windows 7 wasn't officially labeled as such until "just weeks" before developers received an early build, Keizer noted.
However, analysts and developers appear to have already settled on calling the next version "Windows 8," though Microsoft's backpedaling has left some analysts wondering. "Was it the name, Windows 8?" analyst Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft asked. "Or was it [the release in] 2012? Sometimes this is like being a soothsayer, pulling apart the entrails of animals."
Developers report that builds of Windows 8 are still in the early stages. For example, the Ribbon UI feature is "only half-finished and, frankly, of dubious value," according to one report.
Windows 8 Ribbon UI | Source: Within Windows
If the next generation of Windows is indeed pushed past the next fiscal year, Microsoft could face stiff competition against the next version of Apple's flagship operating system, which would have over a year's head start when it arrives this summer. Apple will unveil Mac OS X 10.7 Lion next month at the Worldwide Developers Conference.