Clues abound about the pace Microsoft is on with Windows 8, said Cherry, including statements last week by chipmaker Intel, which claimed that the next edition would not run older Windows software on rivals' low-powered processors.
Microsoft quickly reacted to statements made by Renee James, the general manager of Intel's software and services group, calling them "factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading."
"The fact that Intel made a statement about Windows 8 means that the first set of key OEMs have their hands on code," said Cherry. "That makes sense. You want important OEMs and partners to have the [Windows 8] code, call it an 'alpha,' before PDC so that they can test and build low-level drivers."
PDC, or Professional Developers Conference, is Microsoft's biggest get together for software and hardware developers. Microsoft will hold this year's PDC Sept. 13-16.
Another hint, Cherry said, was the announcement Monday that Steven Sinofsky, the Microsoft executive who heads up the Windows group, will be at the All Things Digital conference that runs May 31 to June 2.
"I think Microsoft will use that to show us that they're making progress on Windows 8," said Cherry. "In January at CES, Microsoft showed a bit of Windows 8, but it was held together with alligator clips and duct tape. Sinofsky will probably demonstrate a more polished package, and show us enough to prove progress."
But even with those tidbits, Cherry said he would wait until PDC, when he expects Microsoft will provide all developers an early version of Windows 8, to make a more precise call on whether the next OS will ship next year.
"At PDC, Microsoft will probably release a beta or preview, then nine to 12 months after that, launch Windows 8," said Cherry. "That puts it in late 2012 or early 2013."
Three years ago, Microsoft gave developers an early build of Windows 7 more than a year before the operating system released to retail.
As a Microsoft observer, Cherry would prefer Microsoft delay the next release of Windows if necessary, rather than rush it to market with flaws.
"If this is going to be a true tablet OS, which runs fast, has low power requirements and all the rest, then Microsoft has to get it right the first time," Cherry said, referring to the anticipated Windows 8 specially designed for tablets. "They're coming to the party late, long after Apple and Google, so they have to come in with a really great product, and can't have any problems or cut features or expectations. They have only one chance."
Cherry advised Microsoft to hold rather than deliver. "As long as you're late to tablets, you might as well be later and get it right than on time and get it wrong," he said.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.