Microsoft's Windows 8: Coming to a smaller screen size near you?

Microsoft's Windows 8: Coming to a smaller screen size near you?

Summary: Tami Reller, one of the pair of Microsoft execs running Windows, provides a few new insights into what's happening -- and coming -- with Windows 8 and Windows RT.


Microsoft's new Windows management team is coming into its own.


Last week, I met with Tami Reller, the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Marketing Officer for the Windows/Surface teams. Reller was on a New York City tour, meeting with financial analysts and press. Reller is one of the pair of execs running Windows, following the departure from Microsoft of Windows President Steven Sinofsky late last year.

My sit-down with Reller -- my first meeting with Windows management in a number of years -- was more interesting for the between-the-lines tidbits and nuances than it was for the parade of PCs and tablets that she and Aidan Marcuss, Principal Director, Windows Research, pulled out of their bags to show off.

Here are a few of the topics upon which we touched during our conversation:

How well is/isn't Windows 8 selling? Reller didn't veer from Microsoft's message that Windows 8 is on pace with Windows 7 in terms of number of licenses sold during its first few months. (Microsoft sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses to OEMs and to consumers as upgrades by early January 2013, officials have said. ) But she did share one new metric during our meeting: OEM revenue Microsoft is deriving from sales of Windows 8 is even with OEM revenues garnered from Windows 7 licenses sold during the same period of time. We don't know if Microsoft charged OEMs the same per copy for Windows 7 and Windows 8, but the implication is OEMs are buying Windows 8 licenses at the same pace as they bought Windows 7 ones.

A Windows 8/Windows RT 'mini'? To date, word was that Microsoft didn't see a need for tablets and PCs with screens smaller than the 10.6-inch Surfaces. Microsoft's stance was tablets = PCs and thus must be able to do all consumption and creation tasks that "real" PCs can do. When I asked Reller last week about the possibility of 7-inch "mini" Windows 8 and Windows RT PCs, I received a less rigid answer -- more along the lines of "let's see what customers want."

Windows 8 was designed to run on smaller and bigger screens and at different resolutions. The underlying app-platform/app model is what enables this, Marcuss emphasized. So, again, no announcement today, but it seems as though one or more Windows 8/Windows RT "mini" tablets are likely waiting in the wings ... making rumors of products like a 7-inch HTC tablet and the rumored Xbox Surface more believable.

First-party Windows 8 and Windows RT apps: Yes, Microsoft knows that Mail/Calendar/People and Xbox Music on Windows 8 and Windows RT need real work, and not just a few minor updates. Reller didn't share any kind of time table as to when these apps will be updated in a significant way. But it was encouraging to hear that Microsoft is committed to making these "first-party"/built-in apps best-of-breed. Happily, the team isn't pretending these apps are good enough.

Where are all the Windows 8/Windows RT PCs and tablets? Why, more than three months after Windows 8 "launched" (and about six months after it was released to manufacturing) are there still relatively few new Windows 8/Windows RT touch tablets and PCs available to consumers? OEMs have known for years what Microsoft was planning for Windows 8. So what happened? Reller isn't attributing the relatively slow ramp-up to any kind of components shortage. She said the Windows team is trying to figure this out themselves. She said the team is looking at every communication between the OEMs and Microsoft during the Windows 8 development period. Was there a program, a campaign, a missive that would have convinced OEMs to put more muscle behind touch sooner rather than later? Reller said the team is looking into this.

Reller emphasized the positive: The number of Windows 8 certified devices (1,000 at launch in late October) is now double that. Lots of new Windows 8 form factors from Lenovo, HP, ASUS, Acer and others are coming to market in the Febraury-through-Spring timeframe, she reiterated.

The Microsoft/Intel relationship: "It feels like we're doing better aligning with Intel on messaging," Reller told me last week. For a while, it's felt as though Microsoft was highlighting its work on Windows RT and ARM to push Intel to speed up its chip-delivery timing. Now that the Intel Core i5-based Surface Pro is poised to start shipping on February 9, the Wintel partnership seems to be back, front and center, in Microsoft's positioning and thinking.

The Windows distribution connundrum: While Microsoft is continuing to staff more Microsoft Stores, the pace is still too slow for those of us who consider Best Buy, Staples and other retail chains not-so-optimal showcases for Microsoft's and its partners' hardware and software. But the Windows team seemingly isn't writing off these other retailers. "We need to get Surface RT and Surface Pro in retail and do it really well," Reller told me. She said Microsoft believes it can make the buying experience in retail chains a positive one for those shopping for Microsoft and/or OEM PCs and tablets.

I haven't seen customers busting down doors to buy any kind of Windows 8 or Windows RT PCs or tablets in the admittedly small number of retail stores and Microsoft Stores I've visited. Reller said Microsoft has seen the dynamic for PC purchasing changing. The retail store experience is more of an exploratory/educational "try-before you buy this online" one, these days, she said. (Not so different from what's happening in the book-selling world.)

There you have it. No earth-shattering revelations (sorry, Windows Blue watchers). But still good to have a chance to ask questions and get some answers from the Windows brass in person. 

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Tablets, ARM, PCs, Microsoft Surface


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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  • The most intersting part:

    "My sit-down with Reller -- my first meeting with Windows management in a number of years.."

    That is rather astonishing. My assumption is that you would never turn down a meaningful invitation, but I assume you are not about to write a blog on THAT subject. ;-)
    • I believe it was MSFT that was shunning Ms. Foley

      Redmond can have long memories.
      • Indeed

        A few years back, I recall her writing an article entitled "Life as a Microsoft Bottom Feeder". It seems to be absent from the zdnet archives, but there is one hit for a capture of it out there in google-land.
        • Check out this link for a copy?

          I can't vouch for this being what you are thinking of; let us know?
          • It appears to be...

            the article in question
        • Are you suggesting that.......

          MS itself behaves just like the MS shills here; they shoot the messenger?

          Hmmm. Could there be a correlation between that and MS not doing so well?

          How about it Mr. Ballmer, is MS an arrogant bully?
          • MS not doing so well?

            Looking at everything here of late I would have to disagree. They had another profitable quarter, Windows 8 just released, and Nokia phones available to all and doing good. I wish the company I worked for was doing as poorly as they are!
            NoMore MicrosoftEver
          • At some point in your life..

            you must consider there are people that disagree with you that don't fall under the category of a shill. One would hope, anyway.
          • Classless

            D.T.Long: "MS itself behaves just like the MS shills here.."

            It takes one to know one!
    • Most interesting part for me...

      Microsoft says OEM sales are keeping pace with Windows 7. All this means is, people are buying PCs at the same rate they bought PCs when Windows 7 was released. They aren't choosing Windows 8. They're getting it whether they like it or not. If Windows 7 was still offered as an option, I believe it would be a different story. Also, statistics from Internet tracking companies are showing that the actual number of Windows 8 PCs being used daily is vastly lower (1/50th) than Microsoft's stated sales. So, it seems Microsoft is selling large OEM license batches and counting them before they're actually sold to consumers. They're paper numbers. That explains the vast difference between the "sold" and "being used" numbers. In my mind, their claims don't reflect reality.
      • Every point of yours is skewed or wrong

        If the Win 8 numbers are "paper numbers" (according to you), then Win 7 numbers also would have been "paper numbers". It's not like Microsoft has started selling OEM licenses in a different manner.

        And it's not like Windows 7 was not put on new PCs "whether people like it or not". Or Vista before that. Or XP before that.

        Really, I think you need to realize that your obviously biased opinion that Windows 8 is somehow "bad" is wrong, as proved by hard sales numbers.

        Just because a bunch a biased tech writers want to take Microsoft down a notch by constantly slamming Windows 8 doesn't make them right. So don't believe them just because they say it.
        • When Windows 7 . . .

          When Windows 7 was released, Vista had been out for almost two years, and was thoroughly despised, whether justifiably so or not. Sales of XP had been continued. People often 'upgraded' from Vista to XP. So did corporations.

          A great many people had avoided buying new PC's specifically to avoid Windows Vista. That included home users and businesses.

          It took around two months to demonstrate that Windows Vista had fixed the major problems that Vista had. Then, the floodgates opened.

          Now, in contrast, as time passes, the demand for Windows 8 systems seems to be declining. Corporations largely are avoiding it. Consumers are also avoiding Windows 8. sales are actually below the levels seen for Vista.

          Microsoft needs to fix the complaints people have about (I am not)Metro. The Preview releases provided a large amount of feedback. Microsoft knows what people dislike.

          When Vista was released, smaller computers came out, Netbooks running Linux. They typically sold out. But, they were only offered on the lowest margin machines. The party line was that they were being returned in large numbers, but, review of the return rates from that time shows that the return rates for Linux Netbooks were right in line with overall computer return rates. What actually happened, was that Microsoft, to prevent a large influx of Linux powered machines, offered XP licenses at a drastically reduced rate, along with the usual policy of charging the manufacturers for the total number of PCs sold, not the total number of instances of windows installed.

          Now, this history is repeating itself. Google has released two free operating systems that can fill the niche for a small computer for limited tasks. These machines are less expensive to produce than are the Win 8 RT or Pro lines. They are also much more similar to the machines that the users are used to.

          Just like the Linux Netbooks sold out as quickly as they could be produced and stocked, the newer Chromebook and Android devices are flying off the store shelves as fast as they can be manufactured. Then, Microsoft could use questionable and illegal licensing deals to eliminate the threat, but, now the threat is from bigger players who have already noticed that close to 10% of their total sales are in these upstart systems.

          Microsoft has to quickly offer something that is both less expensive and closer to what the customers are used to, or the monopoly is broken. Once that happens, it's over.

          Microsoft would continue, of course, but they would be only half the company they now are. Without the monopoly on Windows, Office becomes vulnerable. Without those two monopolies, the rest of Microsoft's products would have to survive on their own merits.

          X-box lost well over ten Billion before it ever broke even, and the rest never have broken even. Even X-box loses money some quarters.

          A Microsoft without a monopoly on the desktop would be a totally different company than we have seen since 1982. No, Microsoft absolutely has to fix the problems that plague the Metro ecosystem. They no longer have the option of having five years to get the bugs out.

          I believe that we will soon see inexpensive licenses of Windows 7 to stem the tide of Apple and Linux (Android). Microsoft just doesn't have any real choice.
      • So, how is this different?

        I am not sure that your argument isn't the same that could have been leveled at the Win7 launch. PC's were simply sold with Win7, with no options for most people to choose anything else. Sure, you could "downgrade" to WinXP if you custom built your PC through Dell or another mail order channel, but that is still true with Win8. All of Dell's Lattitude line for business still comes standard with Win7. You also have the same competitor landscape, with tablets thrown in for an additional sink away from Win8 adoption, so it isn't like there are no alternatives at all. So, I think the comparison is, in fact, nearly exactly the same. Seems to be a good thing for MS to achieve equal adoption rates for an operating system that is such a paradigm shift compared to one that was, by all attributions, a move toward perfecting a system they had already introduced.

        As for the Internet usage rates, that seems to suggest to me that the adoption has been at the consumer level, where Internet use is sporadic (I have four machines for two adults at my house, and one for the kids - we, by definition, aren't on every machine all the time). That was to be expected, as well. Heck, my work PC is still XP! Every company I ever worked for took 1-2 years before adopting the latest version of the operating system. To expect the kind of use rates that Win7 has today is silly. Expecting Win8 to have the use rates that Win7 did on its launch is also unlikely - the companies that would have upgraded immediately for Win7 are less likely to, considering the touch aspect requires a hardware investment that Win7 didn't. Those Internet use rates won't happen for some time.
      • Your so wrong

        People welcome the new touch enabled pc's, and this is just a first batch, they buy new laptops and all-in-ones with Win 8 and they love it, yes they buy tablets too more often nowadays, but touch laptops are great, I just bought a new asus touch laptop its like owning a MacBook air only its 2 times cheaper and has touch. im not currently interested in small tablets so to me I really see no other competitor in the market right now. some of mac specifications are "ok" I would say impressive considering the cost but no touch yet.
      • Window 7 is still offered

        Go in a Frys or Best Buy and see that Windows 7 is still offered. People are choosing Windows 8 over Windows 7. I don't now why anyone would still buy the old version.
      • Win 7 still available..

        @BillDem: Win 7 is still very much available at all retail locations - store front and online. In addition, MS announced that Win 7 will be supported until 2020. You really need to do your homework.

        It appears that Win 8 is doing well, albeit not setting the PC business on fire but rather keeping pace with expectations. Microsoft is very much focused on the Enterprise so I believe we will see very soon how Win 8 Pro and RT will play a major roll in corporate America.
  • Smaller form factor

    A 7 or 8 inch 'Win RT' tablet that runs only the 'Metro' apps and sold at a price of $150 to $199 will be a great idea. Probably they can use the WP8 OS and put the Win 8 'Metro' on top of it.
    • $150?

      $150? Really? Is there even a good $150 Android tablet? Let's not forget the goal of a business is to make money, not to provide products super cheap just to gain marketshare (marketshare does not make money).

      If anything, we might see a 7" Windows RT tablet hit $299.
      Jeff Kibuule
      • At $150 they'd be better off donating the money.

        $150-$200 tablet? What is the point with margins that low? You better be making serious money from advertising and app purchases if you're selling a computer for $150-$200.

        Strange that we live in a world where people expect a Windows tablet to cost less than the cheapest iPod Touch ($300).
        • Hardware margins don't matter

          Microsoft needs to herd people into their ecosystem. This is what Google, Amazon, and Apple are doing (to varying degrees of success). The money to be made is in the content, unless your Apple who can make money on both for now. Microsoft has the advantage of being the OS that most people are used to using but they can't afford to let their market drift into replacing their PCs with non-windows tablets and machines like the Chromebook. I am sure that Chromebooks, iPad, and convertible Android tablets make MS nervous.

          I don't know about a 7 inch RT tablet for $150 but it wouldn't surprise me to see 10 inch RT tablets selling in the $250 range this Christmas.