Microsoft dabbles in hardware

Taking a page from arch-rival Apple, Microsoft has teamed up with hardware-maker Acer to deliver a Windows 7 laptop created to its specifications.

Taking a page from arch-rival Apple, Microsoft has teamed up with hardware-maker Acer to deliver a Windows 7 laptop created to its specifications.

Steven Sinofsky
(Credit: Microsoft)

"I want to talk about the making of a laptop," said Microsoft's president of Windows and Windows Live, Steven Sinofsky, at the day two keynote for its annual Professional Developer Conference being held in Los Angeles. "What we wanted to learn in building Windows 7 was what it's like to make some hardware. We don't do that a lot in the Windows Group."

Sinofsky had been promoting new features available in Windows 7 to hardware developers, such as multi-touchscreen maker Sony, to improve the user experience via new APIs (application protocol interface) available in Windows 7. The device comes as speculation mounts over the arrival of an Apple multi-touchscreen tablet equivalent to the iPhone.

Sinofsky said Microsoft had worked with Acer for the past three months to come up with its so-called "Tablet PC — Microsoft PDC Edition". He said it was not so much focused on "industrial design" as it was an attempt to assist developers uncover some of the new APIs available in Windows 7. While nodding to the advantages a maker of both software and hardware has, Sinofsky steered clear of a full commitment to a new mode of production.

"We wanted to make a laptop to give to a developer and that developer can understand how to use all the Windows 7 APIs in a practical, low-priced way to do it. So we kitted it out," he said, holding the device up. "We actually learned a great deal about hardware. We talked about the different touchscreens. And we learned how hard it is to mount a multi-touchscreen, depending on the technology," he continued.

"It was great for us, as members of the ecosystem, to understand the ins and outs and ups and downs of building hardware." The device has been preloaded Office 2010, and virtualisation software.

It's still unclear whether the device, specifications for which are here, will be made available to the general public, with pricing for the device not yet available. However, Microsoft, to the delight of about 5000 paying delegates, gave attendees the device.

"It's a machine really just for developers. It's the Windows 7 PDC laptop," said Sinofsky. "It's going to be available to you for free." The room exploded in applause and whooping for around one minute.

Predicting a mass exodus to the stand where the device would be handed out, Sinofsky said, "I encourage you to stay here for the rest of the talk."

Liam Tung travelled to the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles as a guest of Microsoft.