Now that Windows 8 has been partially unveiled, and an early build of the code is in the hands of anyone who fancies it, it is a very appropriate time to look forward and ask the question ‘what comes next.’

TNW Microsoft requested new, and additional information for this post, but Microsoft declined to disclose more than what is has publicly stated. That as it is, we will be using the company’s comments from yesterday, and prior rumors to triangulate the path forward for Microsoft’s audacious new operating system. We say audacious neutrally, as the software is certainly bold, but its quality is yet to be determined.

Yesterday, Microsoft commented on the official release plans for Windows 8, promising to be driven by ‘quality’ and not by ‘date.’ The assembled army of developers applauded this, perhaps cognizant of past half-baked and fully-launched Microsoft products.

The release roadmap for Windows 8 will closely resemble Windows 7’s prior schedule: A developer preview, followed by a public beta, superseded by a release candidate, and then the release to manufacturer build. General availability is the final step, of course. However, different than what it did with the Windows 7 developer preview, Microsoft will be releasing updates to the current set of Windows 8 software, leading up to the beta. In other words, what is now available for download will be improved over time.

The beta release of Windows 8 will mirror Windows 7’s same release, and will be a ‘broad’ distribution. The beta will be the first version of Windows 8 that is designed for mass market consumption. At the end of its discussion of the roadmap, Microsoft reiterated that it is focusing on quality another time, almost to warn the audience that it is in no rush.

But what about what we know that is not from Microsoft? Rumors from as far back as February point to an RTM in April. If you recall, that is the rumored RTM date of Windows Server 8 as well. However, given the patient face that Microsoft has put on thus far at BUILD, I am leaning towards saying that that date is now a bit optimistic. Not impossible, certainly, but not exactly likely.

This becomes even more true if feedback on the developer preview swings negative, and Microsoft is stuck making remedial updates to code that it had decided formerly to be concrete. The cadence of the updates to the developer preview will be a critical indicator of how much work Microsoft has in front of it, and how much feedback it is willing to act upon; the more rework that the company decides it needs, the later the RTM of Windows 8 will be.

That Windows 8 will be available for holiday 2012 is a rumor as old as can be, which makes for a somewhat sticky point: To reach general availability by, say, November 2012, Microsoft has to provide ample time for the RTM built to percolate with OEMs. Say, perhaps around April. Therefore the Windows 8 game becomes higher stakes than most might think at first blush; if Microsoft has to delay the RTM too far, it could miss the holiday sales cycle, which would be a serious loss.

TNW Microsoft will be covering the various updates to the developer preview of Windows 8, and its every following version. For now, this is all we know and can guess. More as it comes.