With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

Summary:With Microsoft acknowledging this week that it is bringing Windows to the lower-power, tablet/slate-friendly ARM processor, I -- like a number of others -- also am wondering what Microsoft's longer-term plans are for Windows Compact Embedded.

With Microsoft acknowledging this week that it is bringing Windows to the lower-power, tablet/slate-friendly ARM processor, I -- like a number of others -- also am wondering what Microsoft's longer-term plans are for Windows Compact Embedded.

I erroneously predicted last week that Microsoft might show and tell more about its Windows Embedded products at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Instead, Embedded got no keynote or press conference love, though the Windows Embedded team did have a presence at the event and on the show floor.

(Microsoft also cancelled this week a scheduled appearance of OEM Chief Steve Guggenheimer at a JP Morgan tech conference at CES, which was slated for January 6. Guggenheimer has talked up in the past Embedded Compact tablets from Microsoft's OEM partners.)

I'm assuming Microsoft decided to save its Embedded thunder for next week's National Retail Federation (NRF) show in New York next week, as there are a number of Windows Embedded spokespeople slated to speak at the show.

Windows Compact Embedded -- the evolution of Windows CE -- is one of several Microsoft embedded operating systems. It is the core, currently, of both the Zune HD operating system, as well as the Windows Phone 7 operating system. Microsoft is supposed to release to manufacturing the Windows Embedded Compact 7 operating system in the first quarter of 2011. Windows Compact Embedded runs on ARM processors today.

Microsoft's long-term goal is to enable all of its Windows platforms, including its Embedded Compact-based phones, to run the same core/kernel that Windows itself uses. By doing this, Microsoft would cut complexities and improve its developer story. Like the folks over at the "MS Nerd" blog, I'm doubtful this will happen much before Microsoft ships Windows 9 (the 2015/16 timeframe?).

But what happens in the interim? Does Microsoft continue to encourage its PC partners who don't want to use full-fledged Windows 7 as their slate/tablet operating system to build on top of Windows Embedded Compact? Last year, Microsoft execs, including CEO Steve Ballmer and Guggenheimer, used the terms "Windows tablets" and "Windows slates" to refer to products from Microsoft's partners that were running Windows and Windows Embedded Compact. But a slate or tablet running Embedded Compact isn't the same as one running Windows. The GUIs are different and not all Windows apps automatically run on Embedded Compact tablets/slates.

At CES this week, the PCs and tablets/slates that Microsoft execs showed off were all Windows-based, not Windows Embedded Compact ones. (Microsoft officials did post photos via Twitter of some of the company's Windows Embedded Standard partners who were exhibiting at the show, but these folks were showing off "connected media devices" and set-top boxes running Embedded Standard, not slates or tablets.) Microsoft quietly released in December a test build of Service Pack (SP) 1 update for Windows Embedded Standard 7, which adds RemoteFX support to that platform, so Embedded Standard seems to be alive and kicking....

I'm curious what Microsoft's near- and longer-term plans are for Windows Embedded Compact. I'd assume it will be around for a while, and that a future version of the Windows Phone OS (Mango or Apollo?) will be built on top of the Embedded Compact 7 operating system once it is completed.

But has Microsoft decided to stop touting Embedded Compact as a good operating system for tablets and slates, instead putting all of its eggs in the Windows basket? If that is the case, I'd say there's little doubt that the possibility of a Windows Phone OS tablet is DOA. Instead, the most those of us who like the Windows Phone UI can hope is that the MoSH (modern shell) UI for Windows 8 takes a lot from the Windows Phone 7 interface.

Topics: Microsoft, Enterprise Software, Mobility, Processors, Tablets, Windows


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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