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Microsoft to launch new Windows tablet OS... but not until mid-2012

Microsoft is reportedly working on a new operating system designed for tablets, but it's unlikely to find its way into actual devices until the middle of next year.

Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 OS has been justifiably praised for being designed for a phone from the ground-up, rather than squashed down from a computer. Now the company is reportedly looking to do the same thing for tablets, but the first devices are not expected to go on sale until mid-2012.

Bloomberg has the report, citing "people with knowledge of the plans" as saying that a new tablet-focused Windows OS will start testing towards the end of this year, ahead of a commercial release nearer September next year.

Microsoft hasn't commented, but analyst Michael Gartenberg warns that the company risks being left behind by rivals including Apple, Google and Research In Motion. "If 2011 is the year of the tablet wars, Microsoft will be awfully late suiting up for that battle," he tells Bloomberg. "It's not a good position to be in."

We actually have mixed feelings on this. You can argue that Windows Phone 7 on smart phones was actually better for coming out a long time after its rival operating systems -- Microsoft learned from what worked and didn't work on them, and managed to create something that felt definably different.

If the company has a team of ninja-smart people doing a similar thing from a comparison of iOS 4, Android 3.0 Honeycomb, webOS 2.0 and RIM's new QNX OS for the BlackBerry PlayBook, then the results could be well worth waiting for.

The risk, though, is that by summer 2012, we'll likely be talking about iOS 6, Android 4.0 (at least), webOS 3.0 and... well, you get the picture.

It's important to point out that Microsoft already has a tablet OS, sort of. In fact, it has two: Windows 7 itself -- used by the likes of Dell, Samsung and Viewsonic -- and Windows Embedded Compact 7, which was made available to gadget makers earlier this week.

How any new tablet OS would complement or replace those is unclear, but we should find out towards the end of this year -- or perhaps at CES 2012 next January.