Microsoft hasn’t really answered all its Tablet weaknesses with the ARM partnership
Microsoft is unprepared for tablets. This may translate to loss in revenue, markets, category and also the vice-like grip on enterprise. Did Mr. Ballmer factor that into his calculations
The next version of Windows, currently codenamed Windows 8 may indeed have a special version tailored for tablets. But it won’t be out until 2012 at the earliest. That’s more than two years after the iPad’s debut, and long enough for other tablets to establish a huge head start–just like Apple with the iPhone and Google with Android phones. 40% of users plan to use their tablets for business. That has dire implications for Microsoft’s core enterprise business–each tablet potentially replaces corporate purchases of laptops running Windows, and requires IT departments to support non-Windows clients to connect to corporate applications. Once that happens–as it has with the iPhone–IT departments might begin to question why they’re running so much Microsoft back-end software like Exchange for email, giving competitors like Google a wedge into Microsoft’s most important business.
While Windows’s move to ARM for a tablet venture is assumed to take care of the Microsoft deficiencies, the partnership doesnot answer a few definitive questions for Microsoft on the tablet platform.
• The main advantage of ARM is better battery life. But the main problem with Windows on tablets isn’t battery life, it’s lack of a usable touch interface and compatible touch applications. A rehashed Windows CE is not expected to solve that problem for Microsoft!
• Porting the full desktop version of Windows to ARM would be both incredibly expensive and useless: it wouldn’t solve the touch interface problems, and it wouldn’t have the main advantage of Windows on Intel, which is compatibility with hundreds of thousands of existing apps and hardware peripherals.
• Creating a special embedded version of desktop Windows and letting hardware makers pick and choose the pieces they want to use (as Microsoft did with Windows CE) would be even worse: every “Windows” tablet would potentially have a different user interface, different features, and work with a different set of programs.
• Building a new tablet OS for ARM processors based on desktop Windows might solve the touch interface problems, but still wouldn’t run traditional Windows desktop apps. So why bother? It would make much more sense to build the tablet OS based on Windows CE, which has run on ARM processors forever. In addition, Microsoft has already built a great touch interface and development platform on top of Windows CE–Windows Phone 7.
Microsoft isn’t announcing a version of desktop Windows that supports ARM. Instead, it’ll announce a new platform based on Windows CE–now called Windows Embedded Compact–with some new user interface elements for tablets. But this initiative will fail unless Microsoft does the same thing it did with Windows Phone 7 and places restrictions on hardware makers so that all Windows tablets look and work approximately the same way. If Microsoft lets hardware makers run wild with the tablet OS, like they can (and do) with Windows Embedded Compact on tablets today, then the entire project becomes meaningless.