How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

Summary: Bloomberg is reporting that Microsoft will announce at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) a version of Windows that will work on ARM.If I were a betting woman, I'd bet against them on this one.


Bloomberg is reporting that Microsoft will announce at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) a version of Windows that will work on ARM.

If I were a betting woman, I'd bet against my esteemed colleagues/competitors on this one. Instead, I would wager that Microsoft will announce a new version of Windows Embedded Compact that will work on ARM-based tablets.

I'm thinking this could happen for a few reasons:

* Windows Embedded Compact/Windows CE already runs on ARM

* Microsoft is close to releasing to manufacturing its Embedded Compact 7 version of that platform (It was supposed to RTM this year, but was delayed until Q1 2011.)

* Microsoft has been working to port Windows to ARM (as far back as with Vista, under project LongARM), but either couldn't or wouldn't release that port

Steven Guggenheimer, Microsoft's OEM chief -- who, in the past, has been a champion of Windows Embedded Compact tablets and slates -- is slated to address Wall Street analysts on January 6, 2011, the day after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's CES kick-off speech. Guggenheimer might be the guy to talk about Microsoft's evolving Windows slate strategy, but I'm thinking, given his past speeches, he's going to talk up Embedded Compact tablets.

Microsoft execs have been unclear, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not -- about exactly what counts as a "Windows" tablet/slate. When Ballmer talked about Microsoft's longer-range tablet/slate plans earlier this year, he showed a slide with 20+ Microsoft OEM tablet/slate partners. Many of those partners are in the business of providing Embedded Compact/CE mobile devices.

My understanding is Windows 7 slates and Windows Embedded Compact 7 slates won't be able to run the same apps. Because both platforms will support Silverlight, there could be some cross-platform synergies. And who knows -- maybe Microsoft will port the Metro/Media Center UI to Windows Compact Embedded. That would be the next-best thing to bringing the full Windows Phone OS to tablets or slates (something the Softies have said they currently are not planning to do).

But remember: Just because something is called a "Windows" tablet, even by Microsoft, may not necessarily mean it is running the same Windows OS that runs on PCs.

CES is just a couple of weeks away. It'll be interesting to see what the Softies have to say about slates, regardless of which OS they are running.

Update: The Wall Street Journal also is saying a new version of Windows for tablets is coming but is a couple years away. That sounds, as Business Insider's Matt Rosoff noted, like Windows 8. (Or maybe it will be more like a Windows 8 "Lite"?) If it is Windows 8, maybe the long journey involving porting Windows to ARM will finally culminate in a shipping product (albeit one that is timed to arrive in late 2012/early 2013).

In any event, Microsoft is not commenting on any reports about its CES plans....

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


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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  • Who knows what will happen

    But it will be fun to watch. I, too, hope to see the Metro UI running on a tablet device.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Microsoft is the embarrassment of the tech industry

      We know that Microsoft has not yet got an ARM-based OS that is fit for a tablet.

      It can either bring out another Windows CE tablet, that has no apps, and will probably be missing features just like Windows Phone 7 is lacking basic functionality.


      Ballmer can do another embarrassing demonstration of a small slate running an ill-suited desktop OS, just like he did at last year's CES expo.

      Either way, Microsoft has failed at tablets. It has no viable strategy to answer iPad or the successful Android slates.
      • RE: How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

        @gyepera Never underestimate Microsoft. You don't have a clue as to the existence of a "viable strategy" or not.

        Note all first release items including the first iPhone and Android were lacking stuff (e.g. iPhone cut and paste and multi-tasking)
      • What Android slates?


        Did I miss something?
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Samsung Galaxy Tab and other Android slates

        @Cylon Centurion 0005 - The Samsung Galaxy Tab is already running Android 2.2, soon to be updated to 2.3 (more tablet friendly), and has already sold millions of units.

        Microsoft will have to compete against these already successful Android slates, yet Microsoft's mobile/tablet strategy so far is nonsensical. Microsoft's choice is to either run WinCE or shoehorn a desktop OS into a slate. Bad choices.
      • Oh look, another "I don't care what its about if it's M$,"

        then I have a book of pre-written 'M$ sucks because' posts"

        Oh my, how original gyepera. (yawn)

        [i]Successful Android slates. [/i]? I have yet to hear any glowing reviews for any slate running Android. I'm not saying that there never will be, but as of right now, take a look around and you can see they're not there yet.

        Not even close.
        John Zern
      • thats what i've been saying zerny boy

        android WILL kill Winblows and iOSuX but not until these vendors get there crap together and put out a tablet WORTHY of Android - NOT the crap thats out right now!!
        Ron Bergundy
      • RE: How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?


        "We know that Microsoft has not yet got an ARM-based OS that is fit for a tablet."

        Tablets are weird things. Either they're scaled down from a full OS or they're scaled up from a phone OS. They can have ARM or Intel. In fact, Intel and Microsoft were on tablet PCs long before the iPad.

        I don't think Microsoft or Intel are going to give up so easily. Seriously - they're huge corporations with vast resources, and they do have a history of succeeding even when the skeptics say they can't.

        Microsoft got into netbooks and made the Xbox, even when skeptics claimed they "can't" compete.

        Intel's atoms are in netbooks and the new ChromeOS internet things. You think ChromeOS is the future? Guess what, it's running on the x86 platform.

        I'm pretty confident that both Microsoft and Intel are not giving up - that's not their style.
      • RE: How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

        @gyepera and you would be put in the category of fools that underestimated MS. The list is long.
      • RE: How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

        Don't be so sure! They, right now, have netbooks running on Win CE. They are not the fastest and/or strongest systems, but with a little tinkering one might be surprised. With Win 7 embedded compact, things could very quickly get very interesting. Stay tunned; should be fun!
    • RE: How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

      @Cylon Centurion 0005
      It would be nice to see a WinMo7-style interface on a tablet, to combat Apple's iPad "monopoly." I worry that people will expect a MS Windows tablet to run MS Windows applications. I hope the users get that the OSes aren't compatible.
  • Yeah, because the problem's been the chip all along.

    Talk about re-arranging the deck chairs on the [i]Titanic[/i]!

    The idea of a Win Embedded Compact 7 on ARM running Metro and with apps within Silverlight is a very interesting one. That platform could have some real potential, and seems like a more organic fit for current Windows developers than WP7, or at least less of a stretch.
    • RE: How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

      @matthew_maurice - why rely on the Win Embedded 7 kernel & core OS? The NT kernel has now been reduced to just 32KB on disk. Atop this kernel you have to add CoreOS components (some kernel-mode, some user-mode) to provide networking stack, graphics, etc., but there's no reason why MS can't do this and build a version of what you currently think of as "desktop" Windows for tablet/slate type devices.

      It'd make more long-term sense for Microsoft to concentrate its efforts on one kernel and OS, customized for different platforms - handset, tablet, laptop, desktop, server.
      • No reason except for all the reasons they HAVEN'T.

        @bitcrazed It's not like MS hasn't had years to make a tablet with mass-market appeal using that approach. So the only reason[s] they haven't are whatever reasons have stopped them so far.
  • Managed Silverlight optimized CE tablet is what I want!!

    A while back Scott Guthrie let slip that there will be a full .net managed programming model behind Silverlight Nativefor WinCE, the same one that WP7 uses im guessing. []

    What they haven't said is if xna will be available on WinCE, im hoping this too comes across.

    Either or just Silverlight Managed is all that is needed to deliver an awesome OS for tablets. I'm hoping that MS deliver all this to tablet manufacturers, and that they help them implement these to the same standard as WP7 for those device manufacturers.

    I've got my fingers crossed for a Silverlight/XNA CE tablet for CES .....
    • XNA support


      D3D is not part of Windows Embedded Compact 7 PCTP, and they have no intention of bringing it to the platform for the time being. DirectDraw and OpenGL ES 2.0 are supported though.

      Doesn't XNA use D3D though? If so, XNA is out. Embedded Standard 7 would be a better target platform if XNA is required though, since XNA is just a subset API for desktop Windows and DX.
  • Hmmm I dont see much to be surprised at here.

    If you took Windows7, removed all the pieces you didn't need on a slate, and recompiled it for ARM, I think you'd pretty much end up with Embedded Compact 7. Of course being ARM it won't run the same apps as an x86 slate running full W7 unless those apps are pure .NET and only leverage the subset of .NET that's common to both platforms, which would logically be Silverlight. So there you go. Very expected...
    Johnny Vegas
    • RE: How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

      @Johnny Vegas

      I think the problem is the current plain WinCE installation doesnt have of the usable apps/services/UI for a slate/tablet. May is MS is working on changing and provide the basic features in some 'tablet' flavour of WinCE. i.e. announce a tablet flavor of WinCE with basic apps+services+UI (similar to WP7) that OEMS can load as-it-is (or) add more services.
    • RE: How will Microsoft address the ARM-based tablet space?

      @Johnny Vegas. This is way more complicated than just re-compiling. Not only is a port involved but you have all the hardware driver stuff to deal with. Security is different.
      • I dont know about you but since NT first came out in the early 90's

        I've built commercial apps for W32/W64 for x86, x64, MIPS, ALPHA, PPC, and Itanium. MS has the whole hardware abstraction layer (HAL) down very well. It very largely is "recompiling", with a very small, very well defined, very well isolated chunk of platform specifics and drivers. I think the only thing that has kept them from releasing an ARM version to date is they realize when they do they are at app parity with the competition, their huge legacy code base of millions of x86 apps that is their advantage on x86 is gone. And office not the least of them. I'm sure they're kicking themselves for not making office over on .NET with a small native chunk of perf sensitive code. As they already have shipped Silverlight running on ARM they clearly have ARM jiting support and all .NET apps will run.
        Johnny Vegas