Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve

Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve

Summary: Microsoft has a six-pack of lightweight operating systems, but still lacks anything that can answer Apple's iPad. Will Microsoft miss another mobile computing curve?


Microsoft has a six-pack of lightweight operating systems, but still lacks anything that can answer Apple's iPad. The approach---various flavors of mobile and embedded operating systems---is in keeping with Microsoft culture, but that just won't cut it if the software giant is going to compete with Apple.

Mary Jo Foley on Thursday deciphered Microsoft's lightweight operating system strategy. In a nutshell, you have Windows Mobile 6.x, which is about to die, Windows Phone 7, Windows Embedded Standard 7, Windows Embedded Compact 7 and then Windows 7 for tablet PCs and netbooks. What's missing? Anything that will work on what Microsoft calls a "slate," or something to rival the iPad. That's why you see a vacuum in the iPad killer market. Apple rivals are going to Google's Android. And HP needed a lightweight OS so bad that it spent $1.2 billion for Palm.

To its credit, Microsoft is working to consolidate platforms and the development tools behind them. The problem is that Microsoft is resembling a large enterprise that has 10,000 internal applications. You whittle those applications down and you still have too many. Meanwhile, more nimble players eat your lunch.

Also: Alleged iPad killers 'even further behind Apple' than thought, All iPad coverage, all Windows Phone 7, Apple at the 2 million iPad mark: Rivals swamped by platform, Gallery: Useful apps for the iPad

Apparently, Microsoft is telling partners that Windows Embedded Compact 7 is the primary vehicle for consumer mobile handhelds. The rub: Windows Embedded Compact 7 won't be released to manufacturing until the fourth quarter. Another wrinkle: Embedded Compact 7 still won't be a head-to-head iPad OS competitor because it has no common user interface. Slate makers---HP, Dell, Acer, etc.---will have to customize the user interface. Simply put, Microsoft is putting its slate fate in the UI design skills of hardware makers.

In a nutshell, Microsoft-powered iPad killers won't appear until 2011---and even then you have to assume the software and hardware gel on the first go round (good luck with that).

After looking through Microsoft's master mobile plan you're left to conclude the following:

  • Microsoft is in danger of missing the iPad/slate curve just like it did the last turn in the smartphone market.
  • Apple's lead in the tablet market is solidified for probably at least a year.
  • There's a massive opening for Google's Android to fill the breach and give Apple a run. Of course, Android's success will also depend on whether the hardware and software can gel into a comprehensive unit right out of the gate.

Of those three outcomes, the only certainty is Apple's lead with the iPad. Unfortunately for Microsoft, door No. 1 looks pretty certain too.

Topics: Windows, Apple, CXO, iPad, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software

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  • The demise of Windows Phone 7

    Why isn't Windows Phone 7 at the forefront of Microsoft's slate plans?

    If a slate is an internet-centric thin device (running on the ARM processor), then it needs to connect to the phone data network, just like a smartphone does. If it is to compete with iPad, then it will need a multi-touch interface.

    It is incomprehensible that Microsoft does not use Windows Phone 7 for this purpose, just like Android is used for smartphones and slates, and iOS is used for iPhone/iPod/iPad.

    Or maybe Microsoft's announcement is just more hot air from the company famous for vaporware. Maybe Microsoft is going to have another try at making traditional x86-based Tablet PCs (like it did before).
    • It is kind of a comedy here. Microsoft does not even know who is on first.

      Meanwhile, Linux is one kernel, runs on everything from cell phones to tablets to desktops to super computers. And, Apple also uses the same kernel across all devices.
      • RE: Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve

        ...Meanwhile, Linux is one kernel, runs on everything from cell phones to tablets to desktops to super computers. And, Apple also uses the same kernel across all devices...

        Not quite. Or even close for that matter. But nice try!
    • Ignorance pervails again

      MSFT simply doesn't need a special tablet OS as Intel's new atom chips are efficient and capable enough to run either full blown Win7 or a modular Win7 like embedded standard 7. Once those Intel chips come out, MSFT could bring that whole Windows eco-system into play be it desktop APPs or SilverLight nimble web APPs. At then it's the existing gadgets designed to run on subprime chips like ARMs looking less attractive.
      • Really, when are these supposed 'super atoms' coming out...?

        Really, when are these supposed 'super atoms' coming out...?
      • RE: Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve


        The chip is called Atom Oak Trail among a host of low end processors Intel is working on, and it's coming in 2011. A bit late but worth waiting for.

        Just Bing "Atom Oak Trail".
      • RE: Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve

        @LBiege Hell current Atom processors can run Win7...
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve


        Current Atom can but consumes too much power. The new Atom is much better, and apparently both MSFT and these iPad killer manufacturers have the confidence in the Oak Trail.

        Giving Intel's mighty strength, I won't get too bothered by being left behind by the current ARM-based products.
      • RE: Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve


        [i]"Giving Intel's mighty strength, I won't get too bothered by being left behind by the current ARM-based products."[/i]

        I don't think any one is. Intel chips will power machines for years to come.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • I don't MS seriously believes in tablets

    MS seems to act as if tablets aren't important. It puts forwards the tablet PC features in Windows 7 with its ancient User Experience (UE) and failed track record, as a competitor to the iPad; and virtually no one takes it seriously. It also throws out Windows Embedded Compact 7 where it knows that this will lead to a maze of UEs and a discordant marketplace. And of course it doesn't back up either effort with an app store to accelerate the availability of applications, or marketing to ensure either effort takes off. MS' attitude towards tablets is truly baffling.
    P. Douglas
    • Just because it is ancient

      @P. Douglas

      That doesn't mean it won't work.

      Okay, perhaps we can lose the bottom taskbar with start menu and have something a bit more tablet friendly. But I would gladly trade a more tablet friendly UI for the ability to run any PC application I want. And that goes for any OS, whether it's Windows, OS X or Linux. Why does a UI change mean we have to reinvent the wheel?
      Michael Kelly
      • Well, the problem for MS is all the different kernels. With Linux, it's ONE

      • It is not enough for it to work

        @Michael Kelly

        The problem with MS' Tablet PC efforts, are that they are kind of like Apple coming out a new GUI OS, and MS grafting GUI elements (like menus, mouse support, windows) to DOS. Yes, you can continue to run all your DOS programs in addition to new applications that take advantage of the GUI extensions. But Apple is introducing a brand new computing model that has years of promise and life ahead of it, while MS is trying to extend the life of its old computing model. Which do you think has a brighter future? Touch computing resonates far more with consumers (in particular non-techies), giving Apple an opportunity to sell not only to the current computing population, but to many, many people who are now averse to computers and their complexity. (I believe the latter market is bigger than the former.) Also touch computing provides more and greater opportunities to those offering services, because devices that support the computing model get used a lot more for service supported tasks than on the PC.

        So you have a situation where MS is injecting Botox into Windows, and trying to pit it against Apple's own super gorgeous iPad, and only MS and a few others think it will work. At some point, MS will have to make a break from its twenty plus year old Windows GUI, and provide something new that has a bright future. Apple has now forced MS' hand. MS simply has no choice but to move, and move quickly.

        MS may come out with touch experiences that span MS Surface, Windows, Windows Embedded Compact, and smartphones. Whatever it does, it cannot continue to do things like it did in the past to grow its ecosystems. It needs to treat each effort like a child which it nurtures to a self-sustaining adult. E.g. its efforts at tossing pen input extensions into Windows and support for them in Visual Studio, should no longer be considered a meaningful effort at trying to get new technology to take off. That's kind of like tossing food and water at a kid in the wilderness, and telling him to find his way back home. MS now needs to advertise like crazy in a sustained manner, and have holistic business and developer support (for which having an app store has now become a baseline) until the technology catches on.
        P. Douglas
    • RE: Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve

      @P. Douglas

      You are still not convincing me why you have to reprogram everything from scratch to accomplish these feats. The only reason I can think of is to get away from the x86 architecture, but at least in the Linux world this means most things simple need a recompile with perhaps a few adjustments here and there. A code audit seems so much simpler to me than a complete rewrite, plus it would be easier on the end user because they will know their old data formats will still be good.
      Michael Kelly
      • What I'm suggesting doesn't require completely rewritten applications

        @Michael Kelly

        What I'm suggesting requires for the most part, that only the user interface of existing applications be rewritten. If an application was written using a three tiered approach, there shouldn't be that much work. Plus if MS comes out with a touch interface for Windows, it would most likely also come out with a classic GUI interface for Windows as well, resulting in a developer's application still being able to run largely untouched, but also allowing the developer to adapt his application for a new market. So overall I think it's a plus for developers. Remember also, MS has no choice but to go in this direction, because Apple is effectively forcing it to do so.
        P. Douglas
  • HP has a real opportunity

    With the purchase of Palm, HP was a real opportunity here. The WebOS was a really good platform it was just implemented on less than stellar hardware. HP has a real opportunity here. Whether or not they capitalize on it remains to be seen.
  • RE: Microsoft's six-pack OS strategy: Missing the Apple iPad curve

    Or maybe Microsoft isn't trying to make an Apple iPad killer because they know the iPad is a fad that is going to pass. They are working on embedded systems, not some show boat system. You are putting way too much faith in the pad/slate market.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Old question "know" vs "believe".

      @Loverock Davidson
      I doubt MS actually "knows" anything about the iPads future nobody not even Apple knows for certain. Perhaps MS believes as you say but I doubt they know. It's like when someone tries to "witness" me. They say they "KNOW" there is a god. I say know or believe? If you know you should be able to detail this knowledge and share it with me if you believe you won't be able to convince me. Then they go on and on about "IF" I would only allow either Jesus or the Holy Spirit into my heart all would be clear etc.. etc. I say to them And how do I know that is not just a form of self delusion? Then I say to them it is clear you really, really, really do believe there is a god, but no you don't know there is a god these are two different things bye and have a nice day:)

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
  • Just like they "missed" the netbook market by not having a "netbook OS"?

    Yeah right...
    Windows embedded standard 7 would do ok there.

    However I personally dont want a ipad/slate or a netbook. I just want an all day ultra slim laptop.
    Johnny Vegas
  • I don't see the point...

    The iPad is NOT A COMPUTER. It is an entertainment consumption device. Stop thinking PC vs. Mac vs. Linux; think "small portable TV" instead. Or maybe just "oversized iPhone."

    Microsoft doesn't NEED to compete with the iPad, because MS's market is the enterprise. Windows is the standard for enterprise desktop computing, and will remain so unless there is a dramatic paradigm shift.

    Microsoft should ignore the iPad and go back to work.