Microsoft's big week at CES included the announcement that the next version of Windows will run on ARM chips, and upcoming touch-screen laptops.
Microsoft always has a substantial presence at the Consumer Electronics Show
in Las Vegas, and 2011 was no
The company's biggest CES announcement came on Jan. 5, when it announced
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 and Texas Instruments. Although
Windows currently dominates the x86 platform used by traditional PCs, the rise
of powerful mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets-largely powered by ARM
chip designs-has created a wider potential market for the operating system.
"Under the hood there's a ton of differences that need to be worked
through," Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live
Division, told the media and analysts assembled for a Jan. 5 press conference. "Windows
has proven remarkably flexible at this under-the-hood sort of stuff. We work on
storage from flash all the way up to terabytes of storage" and "Windows
kernel on alternate architectures."
During that conference, Sinofsky and other executives demonstrated how
Windows could run on native ARM architecture
with little evident slowdown. "New version of Internet Explorer running ARM,
hardware accelerated," Michael Angiulo, a corporate vice president for
Microsoft, said as he demonstrated applications on a laptop with an Nvidia
Tegra chip. "'Iron Man' trailer in high definition, running natively on an
However, Microsoft will need to work through some engineering issues
associated with the new architecture. When questioned about whether current
Windows applications would run on the new ARM-enabled
version of the operating system, Sinofsky explained that "x86 programs don't
run on ARM architecture, and it's not likely
that there'll be virtualization." Without getting into further detail, he
added: "We'll have a lot more to say about developers and opportunities
down the road. Whenever Windows works on new hardware, our job is to allow the
flexibility and choice of that new hardware to shine through."
Microsoft is offering no firm release date for the new ARM-based
Later on Jan. 5, Microsoft
CEO Steve Ballmer took to the keynote stage, highlighting the company's
forays into the consumer realm. Telling the audience that Microsoft's product
line is the result of "big technology bets that we've made," Ballmer
suggested that the company's hands-free Kinect controller and Xbox 360 are
expanding from pure gaming platform to household entertainment hub.
"As we speak today, millions of people are enjoying their TV, their
music and their movies on demand through Xbox Live," he said. In coming
months, Microsoft will roll out Avatar Kinect, which will allow users to interact
with others in virtual environments via gesture.
also detailed the recent progress of Windows Phone 7, the company's revamped
smartphone platform. "There are already more than 5,500 apps available to
customers," he said. "More than half our customers download a new
Microsoft will continue to invest "aggressively" in the platform,
he added, before confirming long-standing rumors that a series of software
updates will be pushed automatically to users over the next few months. Those
updates will include "copy-and-paste and significant performance
improvements when loading and switching between applications."
In addition, Windows Phone 7 smartphones will appear on Verizon and Sprint
in the first half of 2011. The platform originally launched on GSM-based
networks such as AT&T. Microsoft claims that manufacturers have sold some
1.5 million Windows Phone 7 units to retailers, but it remains unclear how many
of those devices have found their way into consumers' hands.
Heading into the keynote, a number of analysts and pundits expected Ballmer
to make some sort of announcement about Windows-powered tablets. He declined to
do so. However, Microsoft's
presence on the CES show floor was marked by a handful of tablets running
Windows 7. Most seemed intended for the Asian market, and featured large 10-
and 12-inch screens-in contrast to the 7-inch Android tablets currently
In place of an "iPad killer" or similar device, Microsoft and its
manufacturing partners spent CES pushing a number of upcoming laptops with
ultra-slim form factors and, in many cases, tablet-style touch functionality.
These include a Samsung laptop whose keyboard slides underneath to transform it
into a tablet, and a notebook from Acer with a second touch screen in place of
a keyboard. Microsoft also used the show to demonstrate Surface 2, the next
generation of the company's table-size touch-screen tablets. The new version
runs Windows 7 and is fronted with Gorilla glass.
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.