"Microsoft is excited to deliver a feature complete CTP during the Heroes Happen Here launch wave and a release candidate (RC) in Q2 calendar year 2008, with final Release to manufacturing (RTM) of SQL Server 2008 expected in Q3. "
To translate that into English, there will be a feature complete preview available probably in late February or early March, and the final product will ship at some point after the end of June.
I've seen several people acting surprised, alarmed and/or disappointed by this announcement, and complaining that this makes the Heroes Happen Here launch event seem somewhat silly. But why should we be surprised or disappointed? Remember the "Ready" launch event that Microsoft had for SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006? One event, but with only two products actually shipping. It was (like the Heroes Happen Here launch event is) a Marketing Launch, not a product launch. And I, for one, am happy.
Why should I be happy? Because if the product groups were forced by marketing to coordinate their RTM dates around some arbitrary marketing event, then we'd have whatever happened to be ready at the moment, and not the best quality product possible. Which would you rather have?
To be honest, I'm tempted to draw parallels between this delay announcement and the blog fallout to the various delays that took place during the recording and release of Manowar's latest studio album Gods of War. We all wanted the album now (and some of us wanted it years ago ;-) but the band waited until the album was ready, and it showed in the quality of the final product. I've long claimed that Microsoft SQL Server is the Manowar of relational database management systems (I cannot think of higher praise to offer here) and here we have one (slightly skewed, but still valid) example of why I believe this to be true.
Bring on the CTP, and we'll be ready for RTM when it's ready for us.
 Except, of course, for the horrible bonus track. I like to think of this as Manowar's version of the SSIS .NET API documentation.