At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

Summary: Microsoft released this week a Community Technology Preview test build of its Windows Embedded Compact 7 product -- and introduced yet more murkiness into the "which operating system is best for which form factor" debate. I have a (tiny) bit more clarity about the company's latest guidance now (I think)....

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As I blogged earlier this week, Microsoft released this week a Community Technology Preview test build of its Windows Embedded Compact 7 product -- and introduced yet more murkiness into the "which operating system is best for which form factor" debate.

I just had a chance to read through the transcript of Microsoft OEM Division Corporate Vice President Steve Guggenheimer's remarks from this week's Computex trade show -- hoping I'd be able to glean a bit more about how Microsoft is thinking about which platforms are best suited to run Windows 7 vs. Windows Embedded.

(By the way, just to clear things up on the Interwebs, Windows Embedded Compact 7 isn't some kind of brand-new tablet OS from Microsoft. Embedded Compact 7 is simply the most recent version in the line of products formerly known as Windows CE -- one of two embedded operating system offerings from the company. The other is the more feature-filled Windows Embedded Standard. The currently shipping version of Embedded Compact  is Windows Embedded Compact 6 R3.)

So here's Guggenheimer's meandering guidance on when to use Win 7 vs Windows Embedded Compact 7:

"For example, with our embedded (Compact platform) software, you can build on other chipsets. So, this will run on ARM, it will run on Intel, it will run on a variety of chipsets. The good news is, it's very flexible. The downside is, it obviously doesn't have all of the richness of the ecosystem that the full PC ecosystem has. So, there are some benefits in terms of flexibility, but there is more work to be done.

"As you can see here, there's a number of devices. Here's a Hanban book reader. So, where the slate over there is a full Windows 7-based PC. This is a compact-based book reader from Hanban, who is the number one e-book seller in China. This is a new Q Reader coming out. This is a Toshiba device, this is a MiTAC Mio, and I've got a few of these. And you'll see, gosh, these look a little bit like single screen devices. Some people might even call these slates before they came out.

The nice thing is, with the flexibility of an embedded operating system, you can do more things. Again, there's more work to be done."

My interpretation of Microsoft's not so hard-and-fast suggestions:

  • If you are a PC OEM or user: Windows 7 is your best/preferred choice
  • If you are a tablet OEM or wannabe user: Windows 7 is your best/preferred choice
  • If you are a slate OEM or user (with slates being defined as a single-function device, like an e-reader): Windows Embedded Compact is your best/preferred choice (The Version 7 of this product is due to RTM in Q4 of calendar 2010)
  • If you are  set-top-box OEM or user: Windows Embedded Standard 7 is your best/preferred choice

Microsoft is attempting to gloss over the distinctions between these different platforms, it seems, by hiding behind the lucky number 7. But each of these operating systems has different rules and interfaces -- something of potential concern to developers.

Update: DigiTimes has an interesting quote from Guggenheimer. He is quoted as saying: "In addition, for the time being, Microsoft will not offer new Windows versions to support non-Intel architectures that are targeting tablet PC development." His "for the time being" qualifier is noteworthy, given the ongoing work at Microsoft looking at ways to get Windows on new chipsets and form factors.

Update No. 2: A spokesperson from the company helped simplify matters (a bit) with the following position statement:

  • Windows Embedded Compact 7 provides manufacturers of small screen devices (including ARM-based devices) the ability to create rich experiences to consume media.
  • For OEMs looking to build machines that deliver the full PC experience (go beyond consume content to also create and produce content), Windows 7 delivers that.

Aha! I take this to mean that Microsoft is positioning Windows Embedded Compact 7 as an OS for content consumption and Windows 7 as an OS for content creation and consumption. (Why didn't anyone just say so in the first place? It's clearer now, but still somewhat convoluted...)

Do you think Microsoft should stop trying to give guidance and just let OEMs choose the version of Windows -- whether embedded or not -- that is right for the job? If you're in the market for a slate, do you care whether it's running Windows 7 or some embedded version of Windows?

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

    Personally, I want to be able to use real Office and real Adobe Creative Suite applications on my Tablet PC, so I need real Windows 7 for that. Windows EC7 will be nice for smaller tablets that only do minimal stuff like extend media playing capabilities from a Media Center PC in the same house.
    AdamzP
    • you think you can legit run Adobe Creative Suite on a Intel Atom..

      ..based device?? you understand that on such a low power CPU Adobe Creative Suite Apps will run so slow as to be pretty much unusable right?

      That's what people don't seem to be understanding.. even though you COULD run Win7 and Adobe creative suite on these things the REALITY is that you REALLY aren't able to.. because it will run SO SLOWLY on these low computing powered devices. How is it that someone can legitimately think they are going to run Adobe Creative suite on one of these things
      doctorSpoc
      • Early 2011 with the new dual core atoms with integrated 32nm graphics

        that wont be true :-)
        Johnny Vegas
      • @Johnny, that remains to be seen

        And you know the old saying, if it's too good to be true (like the now defunct Courier), it probably is...

        There've been far too many pre-sales performance embellishments in the past for that to be believed.
        ubiquitous one
      • dual core atoms have almost not performance improvement..

        @Johnny Vegas - they just allow for about the same performance with greater efficiency.. have you seen some of the speed test of these new chips.. almost no performance improvement at all.. these guys are just trying to sucker people into waiting by shopping around their vapourware.. why do you believe these snake oil salesmen? they are full of it..
        doctorSpoc
      • Let's try to remove some naming confustions

        Win7 - this one is fine.

        Win Embedded Standard - should be Win Modular 7 as it allows vendors to pick and choose their desired components and then assemble a custom-build Win 7.

        Win Embedded Compact 7 - should be Win CE7. It's really a real-time OS for devices so let's use the old CE naming fashion.

        I think Win Modular 7 should be ideal for high-end netbooks or tablets if Intel could produce efficient and powerful tablet CPUs (they definitely are capable) while Win CE7 is fine for low end ARM tablets.
        LBiege
      • Reality: I do run Adobe CS on my Tablet PC

        @doctorSpoc I do have a couple Tablet PCs that do run Adobe Creative Suite quite well. They're 64bit multi-core versions with lots of RAM and they work very nicely, especially with the Wacom digitizers built in. I also use Camera Control software to control my DSLR with live view on the large screen and load RAW files directly to the Tablet's hard disk.
        AdamzP
      • nice one

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    • RE: At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

      @AdamzP Of course a low-powered device will be able to run Adobe's line of applications with Win EC7. </sarcasm>
      ZackCDLVI
    • They have those now, and guess what, no one buys them.

      @AdamzP: Windows 7 and Adobe CS require real resources. we are talking High performance display adapters, high end processors, and a boat load of RAM, and of course lots of HD space.

      So what does that mean to get those requirements into a tablet/Slate. It means that the device is going to be the size of a modern notebook, and is going to weigh about 6lbs, and have about 2.5 hours of battery life.

      You will not likely have the above capabilities, packed into a device that is .5 inch thick, with 10 hours of battery life, or even half that, and weighs less than two pounds, and puts off little to no heat. At least not likely in the next 5 - 10 years.
      Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
      • RE: At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

        @JM1981 I have an HP TouchSmart TM2 that's 4.7lbs, 1" thick with switchable graphics (ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4550), Dual core x64 CPU, 4Gb RAM, 500Gb HD, and 9.5hr battery life (tops). I don't usually need to bring the charger to work. It also has capacitive multi-touch, full notebook convertible keyboard, webcam, fingerprint scanner, USB ports, HDMI out, Wacom digitizer, etc. and puts off very little to no heat. A version with a Core i5 CPU is coming soon. It's very easy to keep in a backpack/bag and the Wacom digitizer is perfect for Adobe Creative Suite since pressure sensitivity is supported. The only thing I would change is to give the screen better viewing angles. You have to hold it just right for the colors to look correct, which isn't that big a deal considering everything else it's capable of. It's great for flicking through web pages, ebooks, etc. while laying in bed or on the couch (like an iPad). Or I can process 100's of Gb of RAW photos in Adobe Lightroom and even control my DSLR with live-view on the larger 12" Tablet screen while photos taken load straight to its hard drive. Oh, and it only cost $925. A little more than an iPad, but considering it's so so much more useful, worth the price.
        AdamzP
    • RE: At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

      @AdamzP ...how MS are fragmenting things when all those years ago they unified the <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com">sohbet</a> industry. Strange also when iPad/iPhone or <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com">chat</a> come across at any rate as consolidated platforms content to start with a thin <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com/portal/">portal</a> wedge, keep it that way and build up from <a href="http://video.trsohbet.com">izlesene</a> (a lesson learnt from all those clunky tablets of the past?). Sounds to me like <a href="http://www.forumuz.net">forum</a> should just have one modular OS that the OEM's can swap about to their herat's <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com">chat sohbet</a> content. I'm wondering which systems are going to run WPF and or <a href="http://www.trsohbet.com">sohbet odalari</a> - in the latter case whether an (OEM) embedded Silverlight front end will allow non embedded Silverlight apps to run in a browser, say i.e. what the restrictions are going to be and especially how you get those apps onto the device in the first place.
      cstrathmore
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  • Xbox Gold Live Membership

    I am very curious about that mock up and how it used the Segoe font and Metro UI look. If they put something out like what's pictured above I think they would have a winner. Unfortunately it will probably be bloated and just an extension of the traditional Windows desktop. Here's to hoping.
    jspignardo9
  • This distinction could be an entire article by itself

    "Windows Embedded Compact" is the ARM-compatible version formally called Windows CE.

    "Windows Embedded Standard" is a stripped-down version of regular Windows 7, but still with the same kernel.

    This distinction could warrant an entire article by itself. Along the lines of Server Core, MinWin and other efforts to disentangle all the complex inter-dependencies within the OS, what's possible now with Windows Embedded Standard is really very interesting. It can be stripped down drastically in size, boot from a flash drive, but still run full-version popular apps with all the networking bells and whistles. Or it could boot from a DVD as an appliance OS, such as for a firewall, proxy server, print server, etc. We've been able to do this with Linux for years (LiveCD) but it'll be great if we can modify Windows Embedded Standard to do the same without much hassle or licensing restraints.
    JohnMorgan3
  • RE: At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

    What this will result in if vendors start coming out with Windows Embedded Compact 7 tablets is a fragmented apps marketplace incompatible with the NT-based Windows 7 and the Embedded Compact-derivated Windows Phone 7.
    xp-client
  • strange...

    ...how MS are fragmenting things when all those years ago they unified the PC industry. Strange also when iPad/iPhone or Android come across at any rate as consolidated platforms content to start with a thin wedge, keep it that way and build up from there (a lesson learnt from all those clunky tablets of the past?). Sounds to me like MS should just have one modular OS that the OEM's can swap about to their herat's content. I'm wondering which systems are going to run WPF and or Silverlight - in the latter case whether an (OEM) embedded Silverlight front end will allow non embedded Silverlight apps to run in a browser, say i.e. what the restrictions are going to be and especially how you get those apps onto the device in the first place.
    rmac_z
  • I don't understand MS

    Why is MS foregoing going into the tablet / slate market against the iPad? Apple has practically handed MS (and everyone else) a strategy on how to do well in slates / tablets, and MS is saying no thanks? It is a forgone conclusion that Tablet PCs are not going to do well, because nothing has really changed in MS' strategy. Yes, MS has added multi-touch and hardware prices have come down, but if developers aren't generally writing even regular Windows applications (particularly in the consumer market), and MS still refuses to seriously market the form factor, why does MS expects things will change? Why doesn't MS simply seize the opportunity and adapt Windows Phone 7's OS / Metro UI to low end tablet? It could sell the OS for about the same price as Windows Starter Edition, and also make money from an app store, as well as services.

    I think Jobs is right. I think tablets will eventually be the non-small screen computer of choice for individuals (which even Bill Gates predicted), and whenever people have to do significant amounts of productivity work, PCs will be added to their collection of devices. I think MS is running into the danger of becoming like IBM, by thinking that lightweight tablets are going to be inconsequential to the computer landscape. I think eventually people will be toting lightweight tablets everywhere (at home, schools, hospitals, and generally at work) and PCs will be used for significant computing tasks. I think the PC market will continue to grow, it is just that there will be this new, large growing category of computers entering the market.

    Even if MS is skeptical about the above, I think it would be prudent for it to hedge its bet. Also, throwing Windows CE (as is) out into the market to be used as tablets, will only result in a bunch of lightweight tablets with inconsistent user experiences, and resulting stymied growth.
    P. Douglas
    • RE: At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

      @P. Douglas <br><br>Actually, I think MS has the right idea.<br>Netbooks arrived and consumers started gobbling them up.<br>Then UL cam into the arena and started to rapidly erode that market (yes, the iPad is helping to further erode - they did not initiate it).<br>Enter the xPad - first is the iPad.<br>Due to the consumer popularity we will now see a slate (chuckle) of newer devices which will expand on the functionality and life of this device.
      For these types of devices (xPad Gen2+) I see MS as targeting that arena.<br><br>Time will tell....
      rhonin
    • RE: At Microsoft, there's a thin line between a tablet and a slate

      @zenwalker:

      Not sure where to start, really...
      .
      On the notebook front? Microsoft was caught completely off-guard, and had to throw XP into the breach just to stave off becoming irrelevant in that particular market. Even now their marketshare in there is nothing close to their desktop/laptop marketshare. That alone was enough to allow competitors to get their foot in the door.
      .
      Microsoft is, I suspect, furiously trying to get a foot into the arena that they originally pioneered (tablets), but utterly failed to capitalize on. These slate devices are mostly vaporware, and are (so far) unable even to take advantage of the one thing they used to be able to beat out traditional Apple products on - price. To top that off, google is likely to beat Microsoft to the punch in this market, and Android has a bigger mobile app ecosystem as well as a far lower licensing cost.
      .
      Good luck with Microsoft beating that combo. Ballmer would literally have to give away WinCE for free -and- have a huge pile of ready-made apps on tap before Microsoft could even hope to catch up, let alone begin to dominate... and Apple is still selling a million iPads every fortnight.
      Random_Walk