Microsoft Aims Windows Embedded at Smartbooks

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Microsoft plans to use Windows Embedded to combat rival operating systems in smartbooks and a number of other devices meant to always be connected to the Internet that Microsoft calls CIDs, or consumer Internet devices.

Smartbooks are mini-laptops similar to netbooks, with 10-inch screens and full keyboards. But they use different components, including processors from Arm Holdings, which give them far longer battery life than netbooks. The kicker is that while Windows 7 will work in netbooks, Microsoft is offering Windows Embedded for smartbooks, potentially giving rival Google a chance to shine in this product segment with the new Chrome OS.

It appears that not everyone is satisfied with Microsoft's OS plan for small devices.

Intel, the world's largest chip maker, started building its own operating system for small handheld computers and mini-laptops in 2007, the Linux-based Moblin OS 2007, a project it still backs even though it's turned over development to the Linux Foundation for further development. The chip maker is trying to sell its Atom microprocessors in more small devices and wants to make sure people have a good experience with software on these devices.

Kevin Dallas, the general manager of Microsoft's Windows Embedded business, discussed Microsoft's strategies for smartbooks and other devices, such as the company's Haiku concept device, in an e-mail interview with IDG News Service. What follows is an edited transcript of that exchange:

IDG News Service: Where do smartbooks fit into Microsoft's product lines? Microsoft has said it will not support smartbooks with Windows 7, so what else is available?

Kevin Dallas: ARM has long been one of the prevailing architectures in the embedded industry, and Windows Embedded offers OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners strong support on various mainstream architectures, including ARM, Intel (x86), and MIPS.

Device Manufacturers interested in getting the most complete consumer experience from their small notebook PC investment will want to consider Windows 7 Home Premium, which offers richer multimedia capabilities and visual enhancements. Windows 7 is designed in a way that any edition of the OS should be able to run on small notebook PCs with sufficient hardware.

In terms of specific platform and version, generally speaking, we believe that Windows Embedded CE is an ideal platform for CID development, but as always, we let the device developers choose the embedded OS they deem the most appropriate for their development.

IDGNS: What happened to Microsoft's plans for Haiku? Is that basically a handheld computer or a mobile Internet device (MID)?

Dallas: Haiku was a concept device we brought up in 2006. Many of the ideas we raised at the time have been realized through products in market today, including rich browsing experiences, touch panel, high portability and others. We are pleased to see the innovation presented through the Haiku concept device reflected in the current direction of the market.

You mentioned MIDs, this is a term that some have been using to describe a new emergent class of device. What we are seeing is a specialized class of devices we are defining as consumer Internet devices. CIDs are a broad category of devices that range from smartphones to netbooks, such as personal navigation devices, portable media players, set-top boxes, and networked TVs.

CIDs combine the innovation of next-generation software and the power of the Internet to provide key common consumer experiences. Through this definition, we recognize the potential for additional devices to connect seamlessly with each other, Windows PCs, and to cloud services becoming part of consumers' digital lifestyles.

IDGNS: How do Google's Android OS And the Intel-backed Moblin OS play into your strategies for Windows Embedded in CIDs and other small devices?

Dallas: Windows Embedded views increased interest in the embedded space as a positive sign of a booming embedded industry with immense opportunities for us. Our strategy continues to be driven by the needs of our customers and market opportunities. We believe there are critical success factors for embedded operating systems for the consumer device market and that we are very well positioned here.

For example, a successful software platform must support a large range of processors. For example, Windows Embedded CE can support MIPS, ARM, and x86 natively, which demonstrates the ability of the Microsoft platform to support a large range of processors.

A competitive embedded OS must provide a comprehensive set of tools, being able to create applications and rich user experiences. Microsoft has mature and rich technologies to help developers create applications with compelling user experiences, such as Visual Studio, Express Studio and Silverlight. This comprehensive set of tools is integrated in the Windows Embedded portfolio of platforms and technologies to support the next generation of embedded devices.

The Microsoft platform is able to support the digital lifestyle consumers demand from embedded devices, such as seamless connectivity to data stored on their Windows PCs and future cloud services.

IDGNS: What plans do you have for CIDs?

Dallas: As CIDs evolve, we believe they will need to deliver a number of common consumer experiences. For the short- and mid-term, we are focused on delivering these experiences over three phases: First, using Microsoft technologies like Windows Embedded CE, Visual Studio, Silverlight and Expression Blend to enable devices that provide an excellent browsing experience and a dynamic, immersive user interface.

In the next phase, devices will need to connect seamlessly to consumers' digital lifestyles, for example their files, pictures, music and video, stored primarily on their Windows PCs. As these products evolve into their last phase, devices will become even more connected, connecting not only to Windows PCs but also to cloud services from third parties and Microsoft, such as Windows Live Services, enabling consumers to access their information anywhere, anytime.

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