Windows' next version will run on ARM-based systems, according to Microsoft, but any tablets could need software tweaks to compete against Apple iOS and Google Android.
The next version of Windows will run on ARM-based
systems, Microsoft announced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, and in
theory that could squeeze the operating system onto smaller and lighter
form-factors. But according to at least one analyst, Microsoft will also need
to make some fundamental changes to Windows' software if it wants to compete
against Apple's iOS and Google Android for a chunk of the tablet market.
"I think they will likely be successful in replacing some PC notebooks
and netbooks, so they will bash it out with Android tablets fighting for spare
money in consumer pockets for second or third devices," Al Hilwa, an
analyst with research firm IDC, wrote in a
Jan. 13 e-mail to eWEEK. "But these devices will not seriously challenge
the iPad because they lack its user interface fluidity and simplicity and the
content portfolio, and make different compromises on weight and battery life."
Microsoft announced Jan. 5 that the next version of Windows will support SoC
(system-on-a-chip) architecture, in particular ARM-based
systems from partners such as Qualcomm, Nvidia Corp. and Texas Instruments.
Windows currently dominates the x86 platform used by traditional PCs, but the
rise of increasingly powerful mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets,
largely powered by ARM chip designs, has
created both a growing opportunity and a threat for the decades-old operating
"To have a viable media tablet on Windows, Microsoft needs a year or
two of software surgery on it," Hilwa wrote, "including a more
touch-tailored UI, better battery life and boot-time, less-disruptive OS
updates, and hardware support for smartphone-like proximity, orientation,
movement, direction and location awareness."
At least on a hardware level, though, Microsoft seems to be preparing to
take the battle to smaller form factors. During a Jan. 5 press conference,
Windows and Windows Live Division President Steven Sinofsky demonstrated
Windows running on native ARM architecture
with little evident slowdown. However, Sinofsky also suggested that Microsoft's
engineers would have some issues to work through with regard to the new
architecture, and that "x86 programs don't run on ARM."
Nonetheless, ARM could be an essential
part of Windows' future.
"This is a big but necessary bet by Microsoft, which is effectively
being forced to engage in self-inflicted disruption around the PC market,"
Hilwa added. "Many think this is too little, too late, and I do think
Microsoft will be well-served by simpler tablets based on [Windows Phone 7] as
well, but in the long run, Microsoft has to evolve the PC."
Microsoft's booth at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) featured
a handful of tablets running Windows 7, but these seemed largely devoted to the
Asian market. During his Jan. 5 keynote, Microsoft CEO
Steve Ballmer took pains to emphasize Windows laptops with touch-screen
functionality and smaller form factors, but never made the big tablet
announcement that some in the media had been expecting.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.