LAS VEGAS — There weren’t many gadgets at Microsoft’s press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show today, at least not the kind you’ll see at Best Buy any time soon.
Most of the event was a primer on Windows hardware engineering by Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division.
Sinofsky had a few new computers on the stage, including a Samsung tablet with a phonelike slide-out keyboard. The 2.2-pound system has nine hours of battery life, a touchscreen, solid-state memory and goes on sale in March starting at $699.
There was also a quick peek at a Samsung Surface computer in a 4-inch thick case, about the size of a circa 2008 flat-panel television.
But the highlight of Sinofsky’s hourlong session was a geeky demonstration of the next version of Windows running on ARM mobile processors mounted on test boards.
Details were limited, but the message was clearly that Microsoft’s been doing lots of re-engineering of Windows and work with processor companies as it prepares to pounce on the fast-growing market for ARM-powered mobile devices with its primary operating-system.
The software used the Windows 7 interface so what was being shown was that Microsoft’s next operating system will run on the same kind of mobile processors that power the iPad and most smartphones. The company in July announced a licensing deal to work with the processors.
“We haven’t talked about form factors or user interface,” he said. “The priority for today was to show the work we’ve been doing on the engineering side.”
The company also showed ARM processors running Word and a video — an “Iron Man” clip played in Windows Media Player.
Sinofsky wouldn’t say when the “next generation of Windows” will be done and appear in new devices. But he said it “seems about right” to release new versions of the platform every two to three years, suggesting the new OS could be released as early as this fall and at the latest by the fall of 2012.
Before showing the software, Sinofsky explained that Microsoft is working with Qualcomm and others on hardware systems that combine computing and graphics systems on a single chip.
Getting Windows and Office to run on this sort of hardware positions Microsoft to be part of a convergence in capabilities of three platforms — mobile devices, personal computers and “slates,” he explained.
The session was billed as a press conference but it seemed aimed at Microsoft’s hardware partners and the Windows developer ecosystem as much the reporters looking for the next shiny gadgets at CES.
Sinofsky clarified that applications written for Windows on Intel x86 architecture won’t work on the ARM version of Windows, and said there aren’t plans to enable them to run on ARM with virtualization.
Sinofsky sidestepped a question about whether Microsoft needs to continue developing a phone operating-system when it’s making Windows run on ARM.
It seemed more like the old Comdex computer show than CES. Sinofsky was giving a look ahead at the next really big thing from Microsoft, but it’s so far off that consumers can now only guess what sort of new products it will spawn.
So much for the old days, when Microsoft would bring far-out prototype designs to CES — like a tablet PC carved out of wood — to get people excited.
Maybe the company’s being cautious about promising yet another far-off gadget that computer companies may or may not get right. Or maybe it’s so confident in its approach with Windows that it’s not bothering to mock up an “iPad killer.”