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April 19, 2007 at 2:14 PM

Windows mobile platforms boss responds to Intel piece

Before I wrote the piece yesterday on Intel‘s new mobile hardware and Linux support, I asked Bill Mitchell, vice president of Microsoft mobile platforms group, for his perspective.

Mitchell’s the perfect guy to ask — he’s in charge of developing mobile versions of Windows for Tablets, Spot devices and other advanced Windows gadgets. He’s also a former Intel engineer.

Today he sent me a lengthy response. He didn’t say anything about Intel’s Linux announcement, but he explained why Microsoft is sticking with a full version of Windows on the Origami/UMPC platform.

He also reiterated that Intel is broadening its line of “smaller than a PC” devices beyond the UMPC with the “Mobile Internet Device” category that was talked up at this week’s Intel Developer Forum in Beijing.

In size and function, these MID devices fall between the UMPC and smartphones — roughly the same place Apple is going with the iPhone, and Nokia has already gone with its Linux Internet tablets.

Intel describes MIDs as having 4-in. to 6-in. displays (vs. 5-in. to 7-in. for UMPCs). MIDs are also instant-on devices that boot to a simplified interface, and run on embedded Linux.

They’ll target consumers and “prosumers” and will be sold at consumer price points. UMPCs boot to the Windows interface, target mobile professionals and prosumers and have “IT driven price points.”

In other words, Intel is pushing UMPCs toward the productivity box and creating a new category for the little consumer models that were expected to be the third or fourth generation UMPCs.

The consumer models are what captivated people a few years ago when Microsoft’s Origami Project video leaked and created the intial buzz around UMPCs. They were supposed to get smaller and hipper after Intel started producing the new mobile chips, but now Intel’s pushing Linux for the small ones.

At the same time, Microsoft’s Smartphone business seems to be rolling ahead and the company has started building wireless music players that will probably evolve into something pretty close to an MID.

I’m digressing. Here’s an excerpt from Mitchell’s email:

“Intel has announced much broader ambitions for their low power architectures (such as their recently announced Mcaslin) than simply for use in UltraMobile PCs. They have had a gap in their processor offerings since their exit from the XScale business. So pushing down from UMPCs into phones and hybrid devices makes sense for them/their business. At Microsoft we’ve worked hard for years to make sure that we have an OS offering continuum. Our range already spans from the .Net Microframework (aka Tiny CLR), up through Windows CE, Windows XP embedded, and up through full Windows Vista. Having founded (Tiny CLR) and co-founded (CE) these efforts, it has been, if fact, one of my specific missions to create such a continuum of capability, size and price for Microsoft.

Intel’s announcements at IDF spells out their desire to use their LPIA parts to span the spectrum down from PCs, just as we already do with our OS offerings. They draw a line in what they refer to as the Ultra Mobile Platforms space between “full PCs” which run our full Windows Vista Origami solution (which we both refer to as “UMPCs”) and Mobile Internet Devices, which are sub-PCs, and don’t have 100% PC compatibility.”

Apple isn’t running a full version of OSX on the iPhone, so I was wondering whether Microsoft will do the same thing with future UMPCs. Mitchell’s answer sounds like a no — instead the company has Windows CE:

“Our customer research over the past 12 years has demonstrated to us that there ‘is’ clear customer understanding of ‘full Windows.’ If you target ‘partial compatibility’ (UI-level, API-level, tools-level) then you need to spend time generating customer understanding of this new thing. This is precisely what we’ve done over a period of years with Windows CE and Windows Mobile … built up a brand, an understanding of features and a 3rd party community around this partially Windows compatible OS offering.”

My ranting about UMPCs may be premature.

Mitchell said the new Intel McCaslin mobile chips are one reason we’ll be seeing “an accelerating wave” of new UMPCs this year.

Look for the addition of 3G radios and new keyboards, and perhaps some unveilings at Microsoft’s WinHEC conference in Los Angeles next month.

Another AMD Origami, perhaps?

UPDATE: Bill told me his group has reorganized and he has some different responsibilities (I was relying on his bio at Microsoft’s press site, but it’s outdated).

Mitchell’s no longer responsible for Tablet PC and portions of mobile PC that were transferred to the Windows Client group, but he’s still incubating projects in the mobile PC space and working on tailored PCs such as models aimed at the kitchen. He’s also responsible for the “Windows Hardware Ecosystem” roadmap, the WinHEC show and the logo program.

Comments | Topics: Gadgets & products, Microsoft


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