The Windows Mobile-Windows continuum: The plot thickens

Summary:One of the most interesting question-and-answer exchanges between Wall Street analysts attending Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM) and company execs has been around the convergence/divergence between mobile devices and PCs.

One of the most interesting question-and-answer exchanges between Wall Street analysts attending Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM) and company execs has been around the convergence/divergence between mobile devices and PCs.

Wall Street analysts attending the July 30 confab had a number of questions about how Microsoft intends to address the new CPU and GPU architectures that are emerging in all kinds of mobile devices, ranging from phones to netbooks.

Up until now, Microsoft has maintained a clear division. Mobile phones run Windows CE/Windows Compact at the base level (with the Windows Mobile environment layered on top). PCs run Windows.

But the Windows and CE lines have been starting to  blur -- and the effects are being felt not just by Microsoft, but by its competitors, as well. (Gizmodo reported recently that there has been talk that Google's Chrome OS may end up on mobile phones and not just netbooks. And Google's Android is being ported to both phones and PCs, as well.)

As one Wall Street analyst attending Microsoft's FAM noted, Intel is working on new lower-power x86 processors that could find their way into phones and other consumer-electronics devices.

Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie had a ready response. He noted that Microsoft has been supporting for years a variety of processors with Windows CE and Windows Mobile, "so the technical transfer is not a big leap for us."

"For us, the X86 environment is one that we know well and have an easy time supporting. Clearly, adapting that to the environment that we have in the embedded and the phone business would take some work. But it is not a monumental amount of work as it would be if it was an architecture that the company didn't already have a heavy investment on. So I think our view and (Entertainment and Devices President) Robbie and the business team will have to make the call as to how we see that evolving."

Bach, for his part, hedged a bit more.

"If they (new x86 processors) go into phones, there is probably work for us to do. but we have a pretty good handle on the X86 environment and we can make a business decision based on volume and our operator customers are looking for."

Interestingly, no one asked Microsoft during the FAM Q&A about how, when and whether it might make a version of Windows available on ARM processors. Microsoft has said that Windows 7 has not (yet) been ported to ARM processors, which some company watchers have viewed as leaving the door wide open for Linux on ARM netbooks. Windows Compact, however, does work on ARM processors.

In response to another analyst question about Microsoft's mobile-OS plans, Bach did note that the Windows and Windows Mobile team are working more closely together.

"Today we actually already share components between what we do in the Windows space and the Windows Mobile space. You are going to see more of that share continue over time and you will see us accelerate it and do more," Bach told analysts. "Understand historically that was tough because the underlying architectures were actually quite different. But to Craig (Mundie)'s point about GPUs and CPUs and the underlying chip architecture, as those get more similar, it absolutely makes it easier to share more. You will see that whether it is work in the browser, on development tools, a number of other places where we will be able to do more of that sharing. That's baked into our plan."

Reading between the Q&A lines, do you foresee Microsoft releasing Windows (and not just new versions of CE/Windows Mobile) for future smart phones?

More from the analyst meeting:

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility, Operating Systems, Processors, Software, Telcos, Windows

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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