With tablet devices playing a larger and larger role in the world of consumer computing, it’s no surprise that Microsoft has high hopes for its ability to compete in the tablet space. But right now there’s one big problem: it doesn’t have a tablet OS.

That will change with the release of Windows 8, an OS that has been designed for touch and which may contain the biggest changes to Windows since the company’s flagship product was released in 1985.

According to Bloomberg’s Dina Bass, Microsoft is expected to finish Windows 8 this summer, and unveil it for sale in October. It’s a can’t-miss month for Microsoft: as Bass notes, the anticipated October release date is crucial if Microsoft is going to be able to get Windows 8-enabled devices, including Windows 8 tablets and ultrabooks, into the hands of consumers in a big way this year.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Redmond-based software giant.

Apple has reported record-breaking sales of the new iPad, giving it an even more commanding lead in the tablet space. Microsoft can’t start competing in the tablet space until Windows 8 is released and making sure Windows 8 devices are on store shelves during the 2012 holiday shopping season is absolutely crucial to driving meaningful sales early on.

Microsoft is expected to hold an event in April during which time it will further detail its plans and schedules. In the meantime, it appears that the biggest threat to an on-time launch of Windows 8 is compatibility for devices running ARM processors. Windows has never supported ARM processors before, but Microsoft appears committed to making sure Windows 8 debuts with support for ARM. And for good reason: supporting ARM devices could be crucial in ensuring that there are plentiful options for lower cost Windows 8 tablets.

Clearly, if there has ever been a deadline that Microsoft can’t miss, it’s this one. But in the mad dash to the Windows 8 finish line, Microsoft needs to be careful. Getting Windows 8 to market is less than half the battle. Microsoft’s new operating system is a very different creature and it remains to be seen whether consumers will embrace the biggest changes, which include the new Metro interface and the lack of the familiar Start button. If Microsoft’s bold changes prove to be too bold (read: confusing), when Microsoft gets Windows 8 out the door won’t really matter.