SAN JOSE, Calif. – Here's my take on what the Microsoft should do to keep its Windows franchise relevant, inspired by reports an ARM-based version of Windows for tablets may be launched at the Consumer Electronics Show.
First of all, Windows for ARM-based tablets is the easiest thing Microsoft could deliver. All Microsoft really needs to fill that bill is to add support for larger displays and a solid e-reader program to its newly released Windows Phone 7 software.
The tougher job is creating a consumer x86-based version of Windows for tablets. Lack of such software has kept the PC community from jumping into this hot new sector currently dominated by the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Microsoft has long had a business version of Windows for tablets with pen input that tries to pack full PC compatibility into the mobile device. It has failed to catch on in the core vertical users like insurance adjusters that were supposed to spark its broader growth.
Consumer tablet users don't need access to Microsoft's other big asset—Office. The productivity apps are too demanding and low on the totem pole for home users. What's really needed here is a small, fast, low-power, media -friendly version of Windows for x86 CPUs.
To date, Apple has been able to define the tablet market because Microsoft lacks the skill set to deliver such a code base. Samsung was able to be a fast follower into the market because it was able to re-tool Android for consumer tablets.
Even if Microsoft can deliver a really solid ARM and/or X86-based version of Windows for consumer tablets, it will be challenged to be even a third place offering at this point. Top OEMs such as Hewlett-Packard and Research in Motion have already given up on Redmond to concentrate on their own mobile software platforms.
Nevertheless, Microsoft should deliver ARM and x86 versions of Windows for tablets, and soon. But bigger opportunities lie elsewhere.
What Microsoft really needs to get right are ARM-based versions of Windows for PCs and servers. These code bases could lead the charge for supporting low power, fast response times and slim memory profiles.
Dell, HP and others are already experimenting with ARM-based PCs and servers. If Microsoft doesn’t become a lead partner in helping them get there, it will lose its core base of OEM customers in the next decade. Google is already angling to provide notebook software with its Chrome OS.
That's my view of what the company who popularized DOS ought to do. What would you like to see on the Windows roadmap?