New Drivers For Windows Version Will Debut At CES

Several media outlets have reported that Microsoft will debut the new architecture for Windows at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January. The ARM processor was developed for mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, and represents a significant shift in Microsoft’s strategy to penetrate the mobile market.

Microsoft has long made available Windows Mobile, but the company is trying to address Apple’s iPad and gain a foothold in the tablet market. Devices that use Intel processors are less desirable in mobile devices because they generally use more power, and therefore reduce battery life.

The Apple iPad uses a customized A4 chip, and will have been on the market for nearly a year by the time Microsoft’s much awaited tablet computer hits the scene. In addition to the ARM version of Windows, Microsoft is expected to unveil its tablet computer at the 2011 CES.

Samsung and Dell will reportedly sell tablet PCs that ship with the Windows operating system. Intel says it will introduce a line of processors designed especially for tablet computers by the end of 2011, which would allow standard versions of Windows to operate smoothly on them.

One area in which Microsoft will have to work to make sure customers remain happy is its ARM drivers. The unavailability of drivers will sorely limit the functionality of the new tablet devices, and buyers are not likely to remain happy for very long in the absence of working drivers.

Tablets are meant to be mobile, but connectivity to other devices, both wireless and wired, is sure to be a significant draw (or turnoff) for consumers who are trying to get the most out of their tablet PCs. In the absence of ARM drivers for Windows, Microsoft can count on another failure in its effort to mount a serious challenge to the players already in the market space, most notably Apple.

If Intel can indeed deliver a line of tablet-ready processors by the end of 2011, the pressure may be off Microsoft and hardware manufacturers to rely on ARM-based processors to challenge Apple. The availability of Intel drivers would mean that consumers can more reliably depend upon existing driver implementations, or working drivers that contain relatively minor modifications. Should Intel fail to deliver, and the porting of Windows drivers for ARM processors take too long or experience significant problems, Microsoft could once again find itself without a dog in the fight.

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