Windows 8 may be released as soon as April 2012, according to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley. Foley writes that according to a "trusted source" Microsoft is on track to release all versions of the OS, including Server and ARM versions, to manufacturing ahead of the originally reported Q2/Q3 2012 schedule (Foley also explains her policy for vetting rumors).

The same source reports that Microsoft may release a beta version at the company Build conference in September. It was originally thought that this would be a pre-beta preview.

Foley has had a good track record recently, but she emphasizes that Microsoft has been tight-lipped about its progress words a release to manufacture build. She notes:

We also know from previous Office and Windows disclosure patterns that if/when the team does offer a target delivery date, there will likely be several months of padding built in to make sure there will be no publicly measurable slippage. As a result, I'm betting that summer 2012 RTM target we originally heard about might have included that padding, giving more credence to a real internal April 2012 RTM date.

Windows 8, which will include touchscreen support is critical to Microsoft's tablet strategy. Apple, Google, HP and RIM all have a head start on Microsoft in the tablet OS market, so sooner is obviously better for the company. There's also been much uncertainty swirling around Microsoft's prioritized support for HTML5 instead of .NET and Silverlight, so a substantial release to ease developers minds will be also be important.