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Microsoft's Computex Keynote: Windows as an Ecosystem is Getting Ready

With the launch of Windows 8 just months away, Computex has been all about Microsoft's upcoming OS. In a keynote address today, Microsoft's Stephen Guggenheimer highlighted the company's progress in advancing Windows 8 and the rest of its Windows ecosystem.

Guggenheimer started by talking about the evolution of the entire electronics ecosystem from a world of separate TV, PC and phone vendors to one where companies work across different form factors. He said that Microsoft creates a set of platforms that companies can use and build upon where competitors like Apple don't allow partners to innovate. He said Android also allows partners to innovate, but there's no consistency in Android so partners have to take more responsibility for building and supporting their own software. He cited Amazon as an example of a company succeeding in Android by building its own software.

He said that the Windows 8 launch is the company's biggest launch ever. 

Embedded Windows

Guggenheimer then spoke about servers and services. He said that Microsoft provides a variety of private cloud services for business, but runs close to half a billion servers for its public-facing services like Hotmail. He said that because of the company's knowledge of both public and private cloud technology, Microsoft can create the most scalable solutions.

He said Microsoft is working with partners to create a "private cloud in a box" that allows hardware vendors to provide huge servers that create a local on-site cloud. He pointed to a large Quanta server on the stage as an example.

Guggenheimer then talked about embedded devices and showed a video which highlighted all the places you might see an embedded device in everyday life. In the video, we saw a treadmill, refrigerator, security system, Ford Sync, projector, conference phone, supply chain, elevator display, printer digital sign, MRI scanner, ultrasound machine, soda dispenser, GPS system, coffee machine, Polycom phone, digital sign, point-of-sale system, checkout system, Redbox video rental station and robotic vacuum cleaner, among others. A man encountered 45 different embedded devices in a single day.

He said the prediction is for embedded systems to grow from one billion to two billion over the next few years. He showed off a Ford car with Sync technology and an LG digital sign that shows ads, videos or restaurant menus. 

"If you want to build an embedded device quickly, Windows is by far the easiest device to build on," he said. Guggenheimer then announced that, as of today, the next technology preview of Windows Embedded Standard is available for download. 

Windows Phones and Sync

Guggenheimer then spoke about advances in Windows Phone. He showed a real-time translation app that allowed him to read a Chinese sign just by running a handset's camera over it. He then called a demo guy named Ryan on stage to show how, with a tablet, an Xbox and a Windows Phone, you can sync content across all your screens, pausing a movie on the tablet and then resuming it on the Xbox or using the phone as a controller. 

Better Hardware

Guggenheimer talked about hardware advances from Microsoft's partners, including better glass for screens and improved hinge designs for notebooks. He then showed off a monitor from Sharp that accepts input from a standard pencil instead of an active stylus.

With Ryan back on stage, the two of them showed how they could work on a document together remotely just by drawing on a shade of light from a projector. As Guggenheimer drew lines on his desk, they appeared on Ryan's desk and vice versa. Even a real metal hinge that Ryan put down on his desk showed up virtually on Guggenheimer's desk.

Windows 7, Windows 8 and Metro Apps

Guggenheimer then talked about Windows 7, saying that there are now 600 million Windows 7 devices on the market today and 39 percent of the online devices today are Windows 7. He said he's excited to see all the new Windows 7 PCs being unveiled at Computex. 

He spoke about the Windows 8 preview release that launched last week and showed a video montage of people using Windows 8 tablets and other devices. He said that the critical response for Windows 8 has been strong and put quotes from three journalists up on screen. 

He invited Microsoft's Aidean Marcuss, a product manager for Windows 8, up to talk about the Windows Release Preview. Marcuss spent 15 minutes demonstrating some of the coolest apps on Windows 8, including the Bing travel app, a cocktail app, the Wikipedia app, some educational apps for kids  and a painting app that simulates the experience of painting on paper right down to the grain.

Marcuss spoke about all the systems and peripherals that Windows 8 supports. He said that they've added new class drivers that make it easier to provide an instant install experience the minute you plug a device into your computer or tablet. He said that there are more than 50 million Windows 7-certified devices today and all should work properly on Windows 8, along with a host of new devices.

He spoke about apps and the momentum from developers saying there are "hundreds" of Metro apps available in Microsoft's market today. He said there's a certification kit that developers can use to test their apps before submitting them. He noted hardware and software vendors should get up to speed, use the certification tools to test their PCs and make sure they are Windows 8 ready as well as test all their peripherals for Windows 8.

He encouraged developers to learn about how to build Metro apps and said there are developer workshops happening all over the world. 

Systems with Windows 8

Guggenheimer came back on stage to talk about the types of hardware that run Windows 8. He then showed off a few sample devices. First he showed a number of all-in-one computers, including a Lenovo Windows 8 all-in-one with a hinge that allows it to fold flat and turn into a flat board you can use to play a game of Mahjong.

He then walked past a bevy of Ultrabooks we've seen--including the Dell XPS 13, ASUS Zenbook and the Acer Aspire M5--which he showed with its pull down pots. He showed Ultrabooks with touch, such as the Acer Aspire S7 13-inch, and pointed out that the hinge on the S7 becomes very rigid when held at 90 degrees so it doesn't move when you push buttons on the screen. 

He then spoke about convertibles and demonstrated the Lenovo Yoga. He also held up the Samsung Series 5 Hybrid with its pop-off display and the Zenbook Transformer with its removable screen. He then showed off the ASUS's Windows RT-based Tegra 3 tablet.

"We're blending no compromise hardware with no compromise software," he said. 

Upgrade Path

Guggenheimer spoke about the Windows 8 upgrade plan, which allows users who buy a new PC today to upgrade to Windows 8 for just $14.99 between now and January 31st. 

Final Thoughts

Guggenheimer concluded by summing up the different things he showed during the presentation. "As an ecosystem, we're getting ready," he said.