Microsoft's fancy footwork around netbooks continues

Microsoft officials continue to dance around the question as to when and whether Microsoft will make Windows available on ARM-based netbooks. Is there more behind the company's avoidance of the issue than meets the eye?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Some Microsoft execs remind me of politicians: They really know how to dance around a question in a way that allows them to maintain they aren't lying.

This week's soft shoo was courtesy of Bill Veghte, Microsoft Senior Vice President of the Windows Business. Not only did Veghte manage to dodge repeated questions about Microsoft's planned pricing for Windows 7, but he also completely avoided answering questions about Microsoft's plans to provide Windows on ARM-based netbooks. His avoidance really got me wondering what Microsoft is hiding here.

From the transcript of Veghte's June 8 appearance at the UBS Global Technology and Services Conference:

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the opportunity on the netbook side?  How big you think the opportunity is on ARM-based netbooks?  Where do you see that market eventually going?  Is that something that is of interest to you?  Would you port there?  But can you just maybe size that market, and how you think about that market in terms of your strategy?

BILL VEGHTE: And just to make sure I understand, in the context of ARM netbooks?

QUESTION: ARM netbooks.

BILL VEGHTE: Okay.  I think one of the things that is important, as you think about the market, is what is the user doing with the device?  From our perspective, we think there are PCs, and we think there are phones.  In that context, if they want a PC increasingly that is connected, but they still want, as that PC is connected, they want to be able to have an entertainment experience, a media experience, a productivity experience, a communications and sharing experience, and to date that feels very similar to what a PC does....

I think we're going to go through a period where there will be a variety of experimentation, and certainly we will compete vigorously, vigorously in the market to make sure that any of the netbook class PCs that they    that customers, consumers can enjoy the full Windows experience.  And at the same time be absolutely ... I don't know what the right word is, no complacency, watch every device, watch every ODM, every OEM, and listen and learn to what we think the customer usage behaviors are.

I give Veghte points for resisting the temptation to try to force Microsoft's new preferred term for netbooks -- low-cost small notebook PC (or small notebook, for short) -- on conference attendees. He also didn't use Microsoft's latest line that Windows 7 is currently not available on ARM-based systems.

The UBS conference questioner was smart; he asked Veghte about the company's plans for porting Windows -- and not just Windows 7 -- to ARM. I've been wondering lately if Microsoft is (or was) attempting to port not Windows 7, but Windows Vista, to ARM. But as the transcript shows, Veghte acted as though he didn't hear the word "ARM" at all....

So where does all this political-speak leave us? Here's what we do know:

  • Microsoft officials are big on talking up the company's three-screen consumer vision, with Microsoft targeting PCs, TV (via its IPTV offerings) and mobile devices (which include, but are not limited to phones).
  • Microsoft is classifying netbooks as PCs (in spite of the new rumored screen, processor and drive limitations it is attempting to impose on OEMs, so as to curtail which x86/x64 machines will qualify for lower per-copy Windows 7 pricing).
  • Windows isn't available on ARM devices/systems. But Windows Mobile already runs on phones with ARM processors.
  • Microsoft is working on at least one project to port Windows Mobile to MIDs, Mobile Internet Devices, which are a class of mobile device that fall between a phone and a PC.

(Can MIDs be classified as netbooks? Are all netbooks MIDs? Why is Microsoft porting Windows Mobile to MIDs instead of plain-old Windows? All good questions to which I have no definitive answers)

Will Microsoft end up porting some flavor of Windows to ARM-based netbooks, especially if Google's Android and/or other Linux variants start eroding Windows' share? Or will Microsoft, instead, roll out a new Windows Mobile/Windows Embedded flavor for ARM-based netbooks and slap a plain-old "Windows" label on it? Other guesss are welcome....

Editorial standards