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Microsoft puts 'Windows 8' on Arm at CES

Software giant embraces non-x86 platform

Microsoft demonstrated the next version of Windows running on Arm processors in the opening keynote of CES – a big move for the company as it attempts to adapt Windows for tablet PCs, and reduce the operating system’s reliance on x86 chips from the likes of Intel and AMD.

Other than a few announcements related to the Xbox 360 and Microsoft’s Kinect controller system, much of the keynote was underwhelming. But the appearance of the next version of Windows – albeit a version that currently still uses the Windows 7 interface – on chips made by Qualcomm and Texas Instruments (TI) was the hot topic.

See also: Microsoft Windows 8 review

A handful of manufacturers have launched tablet PCs running Windows 7, but the OS is regarded as too much of a power hog to run smoothly on slim and lightweight slate PCs.

But Microsoft claims Windows 7’s replacement will run seamlessly on the low-power chips that are popular with the latest generation of portable computers, and showed a future build of Windows running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, as well as Microsoft Word running on an OMAP processor from TI.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the move to support Arm would help the company deliver the same Windows experience on multiple platforms, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Also during the keynote, Mike Angiulo, a Microsoft general manager, showed off several upcoming Windows 7 PCs with unusual designs. One of them, from Acer, had two large touchscreens connected together like a laptop. Touching all 10 fingers on the bottom screen turned that screen into a virtual keyboard for typing.

He also showed a Samsung laptop with a screen that can slide closed over the top of the keyboard. When the device is closed the screen faces out so it can be used as a tablet. And he showed an Asus tablet PC that has a separate wireless keyboard and a particularly bright screen that he said is easy to view from almost any angle.

All the PCs were running Windows 7 and will be available in the next few months, Ballmer said. “They’re on the leading edge of new devices that offer it all,” he said.

While Windows remains the focal point of Microsoft’s strategy for computers of all shapes and sizes, the software giant hopes to place the Xbox 360 at the centre of your living room. And the company’s Kinect motion-sensing controller could be the key.

For instance, subscribers to Zune on Xbox Live in the US can currently use Kinect to bypass the traditional remote control when watching movies – users simply speak a command and use hand gestures to play and pause movies. That functionality will soon come to other movie services in the US, such as Netflix and Hulu, providing Xbox 360 users with a controller-free way to enjoy the latest films.

Also coming soon is Avatar Kinect – a free service to Xbox Live Gold subscribers allowing groups of users to gather in different virtual spaces. Avatar Kinect can mirror users’ movements on screen – and even read and represent facial movements such as a raised eyebrow or a smile.

Earlier in the keynote, Ballmer said that Microsoft had sold 50 million Xbox 360s worldwide, and that there were now 30 million Xbox Live subscribers.

Kinect shipments exceeded 8 million units in the first 60 days on sale, 3 million higher than Microsoft had originally anticipated.

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With additional reporting from Nancy Gohring


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