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

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.

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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, Mobility, Operating Systems, Processors, 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: With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

    Seems to me it would make sense for Microsoft to get the full Windows Kernel running everywhere. This would make it easier for developers and they can then start to dictate some of the user experience pieces like they're doing on WP7. I for one do not want a WP7 UI on a tablet, what I do want is for Microsoft to really think about how to best utilize the larger screen of tablets instead of just putting a phone UI on a large tablet. So I hope Windows embedded on tablets is dead and WP7 for tablets is dead. In fact in a few years, perhaps Windows Phone will be able to run the exact same code as Windows desktops. So I will be able to dock my Windows Phone into a monitor and instantly have a Windows desktop or tablet. They could store my data in the cloud and use the 4G or 5G(at that time) to pull down my data. hmmm...
    rwalrond
    • RE: With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

      @rwalrond - <i>"it would make sense for Microsoft to get the full Windows Kernel running everywhere"</i>.

      Spot-on!

      Finding software and hardware partners willing to dedicate resources to learn how to design, code, build, test and maintain systems built atop the CE driver model etc. is hard.

      Finding software and hardware partners willing to dedicate resources to learn how to design, code, build, test and maintain systems built atop the Windows driver model etc. is easy.

      Rather than having one OS flavor for Zune, another for XBox, another for phone, another for embedded, another for desktop/server, if Microsoft moves to port the NT kernel and a cleanly componentized OS to phones, XBox, slates, laptops and desktops has nothing but upside for everyone involved.

      I believe CE will stick around for a couple more cycles but that it'll eventually get replaced by the Windows kernel and OS components.
      bitcrazed
    • The problem is that a &quot;full Windows kernel&quot; is a monstrosity, and results

      in hotter, heavier, thicker, less battery life, not to mention stability problems. Of course they need a touch interface, and Win32 applications are not even appropriate for a tablet.

      So, if they do not want to compete in the mobile space, sure, go ahead put a "full Windows Kernel" everywhere. They WILL be able to pick up a few verticals. The Arm processor will help a bit over x86.
      DonnieBoy
    • RE: With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

      @Donnie - do you actually understand what Win32 is?

      Win32 is the core native programming API that surfaces all of Windows' features to application developers. COM and OLE are naative component technologies which sit on top of Win32. .NET and the CLR surface Windows' "managed" object-oriented API and also sit on top of Win32.

      So, are you really saying that code implemented in C/C++ (and a large number of other languages) compiled into binary executables and libraries is not suitable for running on a tablet?

      Your meta point is accurate - Microsoft does indeed need to articulate their story for tablets. Rest assured they'll do so once they have a clear and achievable plan and the supporting technologies and products.
      bitcrazed
  • RE: With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

    The windows story for mobile devices seems very messed up for the short to medium term. Will this mean that windows mobile phone will also disappear? No wonder developers are sitting on the sidelines.
    do_not
    • Why would it?

      @do_not

      Microsoft isn't trying to run Windows on phones.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

        @Cylon Centurion 0005
        "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."
        do_not
    • RE: With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

      This strategy also seems a good 5 years too late. Don't know if MS can pull this off, how much will the market have changed in 3-5 years?
      do_not
    • It's just the kernel

      @do_not

      It won't be the full Windows OS. More than likely WM will soon run on top of the NT kernel.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • In any case, the mobile train has left the station already, AND

        it could take MS years to make the NT kernel or whatever they mean by "the same core/kernel that Windows itself uses", on tablets, phones, and other mobile devices.
        DonnieBoy
      • Not really

        Considering Win8 will be here in just over a year.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • the end of the wintel monopoly

    as always an amazing analysis by asymco:<br><a href="http://www.asymco.com/2011/01/06/this-is-the-most-exciting-ces-ever/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://www.asymco.com/2011/01/06/this-is-the-most-exciting-ces-ever/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.asymco.com/2011/01/06/this-is-the-most-exciting-ces-ever/</a></a><br><br>yes, people i think we can rejoice, the dark age of computing is coming to an end, the monopolies of microsoft and intel are officially over.
    banned from zdnet
    • Really?

      @banned from zdnet Last time I checked Wintel monopoly is still alive and well. Just look at Windows' desktop marketshare! :-)
      statuskwo5
      • Really? And how is Wintel doing in Mobile?

        Why did MS decide to port "full windows" to Arm?
        DonnieBoy
    • Intel Yes, Microsoft Not Necessarily

      @banned from zdnet You are correct in one regard. It is almost certainly the end of Intel's monopoly. As I've written here (http://www.adamalthus.com/2011/01/intels-armageddon/) this is almost certainly the beginning of the end for Intel. They get the short end of the stick from all the deals at CES. The same is not true for Microsoft. 'ARMDows' might become the very thing that secures Microsoft's monopoly.
      GWriterZ
      • Still Win32 applications are fading, and in Europe, more people use Firefox

        than IE. The world is changing.
        DonnieBoy
  • WP7 Interface for Win8

    I wouldn't hold my breath. You'd expect some cross-pollination (e.g., surfacing information about number of new e-mails, etc., in whatever launch interface is provided) but I think a full-fledged WP7 UI do-over of Windows OS would be too radical a change. There're a lot of legacy customers that don't want it to change too much (training and support costs, reduced productivity, at least for a while).
    dunraven
    • some think there will be a dual interface

      Hi. Some folks think there will be a dual interface with Win 8: a touch-centric one (MoSH) and a slight evolution of the current Win 7 one for other uses/business... MS is not commenting yet. This sort of sounds plausible to me, though... MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

        @Mary Jo Foley This would be the best situation. Even better - I would like it if when you have a convertible tablet then when you turn it into slate mode then it is touch centric interface but when you are in laptop mode you are in current windows interface. Now to do this they cannot make the two interfaces completely different - they just need to add touch centric to the current desktop.
        Djblois
      • RE: With Windows coming to ARM, what happens to Windows Embedded Compact?

        @Mary Jo Foley - I think the dual-interface scenario makes the most sense.

        While tablets are a growing sector of computer users, desktops and laptops will remain the primary computer format used by most people. Most computer users need to type a lot and type quickly. UI's tuned for this scenario are optimized for data density and a mouse or similar will be required for clicking and dragging things around the screen.

        Touch-UI's and soft-keyboards are fine for making minor edits and tweeting, but they won't replace real keyboards. Touch-screens work well for horizontally oriented tablets, but try touching a vertical screen for more than an hour and your shoulder and neck fatigue will VERY quickly diminish your enjoyment of vertically oriented touch screens.

        If Microsoft was to extend on the Metro UI metaphor for a new UI for Win8 (and possibly WinPhone8) while preserving/upscale most/all WP7 app's, then they could well be onto a good thing. Such a UI would work beautifully on tablets with fingers.
        bitcrazed