Microsoft Promises Glut of New Windows 7 Slates, Smartphones

WASHINGTON -- Over the next year, Microsoft plans to seed Windows 7 across a raft of new slate computers, handsets and devices of other form factors as it continues an aggressive push to encourage adoption of its latest operating system.

"This year, one of the most important things that we will do in the smart device category is really push forward with Windows 7-based slates and with Windows 7 phones. This is a terribly important area for us," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a keynote address Monday morning at the company's annual Worldwide Partner Conference.

"It's certainly an area where -- how do I say it -- we feel all of the energy and vigor and push that we have every felt to innovate, to drive hard, to compete," Ballmer said.

The broader theme of Ballmer's address -- and the conference itself -- was an emphatic reiteration of his commitment that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is "all in" when it comes to the cloud.

For Microsoft, that means developing new, Web-based versions of its popular software applications, such as the Web apps for Word, Excel and other components of the Office 2010 productivity suite.

It also entails expansions of Microsoft's existing cloud products, such as the new appliance the company introduced today for its Azure service, which will enable businesses and third-party service providers to deploy their own in-house extensions of the cloud environment. Microsoft has enlisted Dell, HP, Fujitsu and eBay as early adopters of the appliance, which it plans to release in limited availability later this year.

Additionally, Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, announced that the company's initiative to deliver premium data sets to developers through Azure, code-named "Dallas," will be commercially available in the fourth quarter of this year.

But for Ballmer, much of the success and continued adoption of the cloud will be driven by a new breed of devices built for the shifting ways that information workers are accessing and sharing corporate data.

"The cloud wants smarter devices," Ballmer said. "The world of tomorrow is a world of smart cloud talking to smart devices."

He is especially bullish on slate computers, an emerging segment of the market that he said will see new entrants running Windows 7 from "the usual suspects," including Asus, Dell, Samsung, Toshiba and Sony.

Ballmer said that device makers will dramatically expand the breadth of options available over the next year, introducing a bevy of products with different form factors, price points, sizes and features, such as touch-based screens and wireless docking stations.

"Many people, especially corporate IT people, say, 'Once I move to the cloud, I'm only going to use thin clients.' I don't believe that at all. I don't believe that the cloud is a place where thin clients will take over. Time and time again, we have seen the advantage of the rich client," Ballmer said. "We are hardcore about this," he said of the forthcoming new devices.

But along with a proliferation of new devices running in the cloud, Microsoft is offering new monitoring tools to help its partners manage and troubleshoot their clients' systems remotely.

Tami Reller, corporate vice president of the Windows and Windows Live divisions, announced the release of the second beta version of Windows Intune, Microsoft's cloud-based service to remotely manage and secure PCs and mobile computing devices.

At its annual partners conference, Microsoft convenes representatives from its business affiliates -- ranging from consultants, software providers, developers, retailers and others -- from around the world to outline the company's vision and product roadmap and to share strategies about how to make money from its products and services. This year, the highlights include pressing clients to upgrade to Windows 7 and, even more emphatically, the cloud, where Ballmer rattled off a number of high-profile customer wins Microsoft has recently secured, including 3M, McDonald's and Starbucks.

"We are not at a phase where we're just seeing small companies take experimental steps into the cloud," he said. "This opportunity is real and concrete and available to all of us today."

The conference coordinators took care to ensure that Microsoft's "all in" message for the cloud would be lost on none of the 14,000 partners who packed Washington's Verizon Center for the opening keynotes.

In a bit of a changing-of-the-guard ceremony, Allison Watson bade farewell to the assembled partners and introduced Jon Roskill, who is taking over as corporate vice president for Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, as Watson moves to the company's Business and Marketing Group for North America. Just before introducing Ballmer onto the stage, Roskill showed a video Microsoft shot yesterday when a group of Microsoft partners took over the Greene Turtle, a popular sports bar near the arena, to watch the final game of the World Cup -- complete with a Microsoft proxy clad in the uniform of a soccer player, who led the restaurant in a variant of the "Olé, Olé Olé Olé" soccer chant tailored to the occasion: "O cloud, o cloud o cloud o cloud!"

The player turned up once more this morning, bolting onstage as he tried to hype up the crowd with the speakers again blasting the cloud-computing chant.

The reaction, put kindly, was muted. But Ballmer took the stage like a rock star nonetheless, gave the player a high-five and held court for nearly 40 minutes as he thundered about Microsoft's bright future in the cloud, his stride broken only momentarily by several bursts of applause.

"If you don't want to move to the cloud, we're not your folks," he concluded. "But if you want to move to the cloud, take advantage of one of the most fantastic waves of interest and investment that corporate IT has ever made, there's nobody better to bet on than Microsoft."

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


cloud computing, Microsoft, Azure, Windows 7, steve ballmer