Report: Tablet-Optimized Version of Windows Not Ready Until Mid-2012

The company that practically invented the tablet is taking its sweet time getting back around to it now that people are actually interested.

Bloomberg reported late Thursday that Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) doesn’t plan to release a version of Windows specifically for tablets until “the 2012 back-to-school season,” which is generally considered July or August. Apparently Microsoft is planning to develop a tablet-suitable version of Windows 7, rather than Windows Phone 7, and it’s going to take some time to make the PC operating system ready for tablets with smaller screen sizes, gesture-based interfaces, and long battery life requirements.

It’s not clear from the report whether or not the software is really a version of Windows 8, which according to Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley is on a similar mid-2012 release schedule. In the meantime, Microsoft and some partners have been showing off Windows 7-based tablets, and talking about a version of Windows 8 that will run on the ARM processors used in just about every tablet currently on the market or planned for this year.

But by then, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) will have had over two years in the tablet market and Google’s Android partners will have been shipping devices for over a year. HP (NYSE: HPQ) and RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) are expected to launch tablets later this year running their own software as well.

MIcrosoft may be able to string things along for a while with Windows 7 tablets, but it doesn’t seem like too many hardware manufacturers are betting on Intel’s low-power x86 chips, meaning that Microsoft could have trouble gaining traction for those devices until that ARM-based version of Windows is ready. Considering that Microsoft founder Bill Gates considered the Tablet PC software Microsoft developed in the early past of last decade to be one of the company’s more important projects, it’s kind of amazing to see how far behind its rivals Microsoft has fallen.

A Microsoft representative declined to comment on the report.