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[Updated below with Microsoft’s statement on Ballmer’s comments]

Two separate developments today suggest that Microsoft may be gearing up to share more information about Windows 8, or whatever the company ends up calling the next version of its PC operating system.

First, as noted by Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said for the first time that “the next generation of Windows systems” will come out next year — effectively breaking the company’s silence on the timing.

“[A]s we look forward to the next generation of Windows systems, which will come out next year, there’s a whole lot more coming. As we progress through the year, you ought to expect to hear a lot about Windows 8. Windows 8 slates, tablets, PCs, a variety of different form factors,” said Ballmer during a speech in Japan.

Yep, he also used phrase Windows 8 — something else the company has been careful to avoid.

[Update: Microsoft offers this statement on Ballmer’s comments: “It appears there was a misstatement. We are eagerly awaiting the next generation of Windows 7 hardware that will be available in the coming fiscal year. To date, we have yet to formally announce any timing or naming for the next version of Windows.”]

Second, there’s the news that Windows chief Steven Sinofsky has just been added to next week’s D conference “to talk about the future of Windows in the era of all kinds of new devices and the cloud.” Conference co-host Kara Swisher has the details at the blog.

Microsoft isn’t saying anything more about what Sinofsky will say, or show, but the last-minute addition suggests something interesting is up. Atop the list of obvious questions is how the next version of Windows will help device makers create credible rivals to the iPad, whether that’s on x86 or ARM architectures.

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