Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used his April 11 keynote at the Convergence conference in Atlanta to reiterate his company's movement to the cloud, and to suggest that Windows will indeed find its way onto devices other than the traditional PC.
"There are more than 1 billion Windows PCs in the hands of customers around the world today, and in January we announced that the next version of Windows will support system-on-chip architectures from Intel, AMD and ARM," Ballmer told the audience. "So, whatever device you use now or in the future, Windows will be there."
ARM-based systems from companies such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments currently power a wide range of popular mobile devices, including tablets. In theory, SoC support would allow some version of Windows to appear on those devices, although Microsoft remains tight-lipped about details of any next-version operating system.
Throughout April, bloggers Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott, in a series of postings on Rivera's Within Windows blog, have dissected what they call an early build of "Windows 8," which includes some features-including a lock screen with an icon for power management-seemingly designed for portable devices.
Ballmer's comments echo earlier ones he made at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in October 2010, in which he hinted that the company's software running on smartphones fell under the same "Windows" umbrella as the desktop-and-laptop version. At the time, he also characterized "the next release of Windows" as Microsoft's riskiest bet. Despite its longtime hegemony of the operating-system market, Windows faces a number of challenges in coming years: from an increasing emphasis on the cloud, which takes various functions traditionally restricted to a local drive and places them online, and from mobile-based operating systems such as iOS and Google Android, which have risen in prominence as people use their smartphones and tablets more and more for daily computing.
A version of Windows that embraces both the traditional, desktop-bound paradigm and the newer, mobile-centric one would help counter both those threats. In the meantime, Microsoft has been very loudly proclaiming its "all in" cloud strategy, particularly with regard to business applications.
"Make no mistake, when it comes to the cloud, Microsoft's all in," Ballmer told the audience gathered at the Convergence conference. "Every one of our products will be engineered to deliver the full benefits of the cloud."
As part of that effort, Microsoft is planning to release the next versions of its enterprise-resource planning applications on the cloud-based Windows Azure platform. At the conference, the company also provided a glimpse of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, an ERP application whose beta is due this month. Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 includes Unified Natural Models, a library of business processes for real-world situations, and enhanced business intelligence capabilities for discovering fresh insights in data.
Earlier this year, Microsoft released Dynamics CRM Online, a cloud competitor to similar offerings from the likes of Salesforce.com and Oracle. It is also planning a wide release of Office 365, the cloud-subscription version of its productivity-software suite.