Microsoft Tightening Reins on Windows Tablet Partners: Report

Microsoft is tightening its requirements for chip makers and hardware companies involved in Windows tablets, according to a new report.

Microsoft seems keen to keep its manufacturing partners on a tight leash when it comes to tablets, according to a new Wall Street Journal report.

That June 1 article, based on discussions with unnamed "people familiar with the matter," suggests that Microsoft wants five chip-makers to each pair with a single tablet manufacturer. The chip makers include Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, who would eventually be allowed to expand beyond that single partner.

If confirmed, and if the various chip makers and manufacturers agree to that sort of setup, it would serve as yet another example of Microsoft's attempts to keep its mobile devices from fragmenting into a bewildering galaxy of different hardware and software options-something the company claims will ultimately harm its arch-rival Google's Android franchise.

Microsoft also learned some painful lessons in fragmentation from its experiences with Windows Mobile, its previous mobile-device franchise.

When it came to Windows Phone 7, its Windows Mobile replacement, Microsoft kept its hardware partners to a strict set of minimum hardware requirements, including a 5-megapixel camera and 1GHz processor. All Windows Phone devices also share a touch screen and three primary hardware buttons. With that foundation in place, some hardware manufacturers then decided on some additional hardware tweaks to make their devices stand out in the marketplace-for example, the Dell Venue Pro offers a physical QWERTY keyboard.

Those strict hardware requirements, coupled with Microsoft's determination to push out software updates to all devices on a regular basis, were likely meant to signal Redmond's determination to push back hard against Google Android and Apple's iOS, which currently rule the consumer mobile-device space.

Microsoft is prepping the next version of Windows to work on the tablet form-factor. In a speech to the Microsoft Developer Forum in Tokyo, CEO Steve Ballmer remarked that "Windows 8" would appear on "slates, tablets, PCs, a variety of different form factors." Microsoft later attempted to roll back his comments, characterizing them as "a misstatement."

However, Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division, took to the stage at this January's Consumer Electronics Show to describe how the next version of Windows will support SoC (system-on-a-chip) architecture, in particular the ARM-based systems so popular in mobile devices. In April, bloggers Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott dissected various features of what they called an early next-Windows build on Rivera's Within Windows blog, including elements seemingly geared for a mobile, touch-ready form-factor.

Sinofsky is appearing at this week's D: All Things Digital Conference, where he could reveal some additional Windows-on-a-tablet details.

Microsoft's partners seemed willing to play ball when it came to Windows Phone's hardware requirements. But will they do the same with tablets?