Microsoft hawks cheap hardware, stays mum on Windows 9

At Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft pushes Windows 8.1 tablets for $99, notebooks for $199, but little info on Windows 9

Windows aficionados expecting (or at least hoping) for some insight about the next version of Windows were left wanting on the first-day keynotes at the Worldwide Partner Conference. Instead, they got more marketing palaver, a rah-rah refrain, and very nearly zero details.

As COO Kevin Turner said in the WPC keynote (fast-forward to 3:40 -- that's 3 hours, 40 minutes), "I don't have anything to say today about the next release of Microsoft Windows... This will be a great enterprise, world-class OS when it comes out. We will have some game-changing functionality in there for enterprise.... You'll be able to write that application once and have it run from smartphones to the largest screens imaginable, with a single developer API."

The surprise came when Turner talked about the new hardware expected to run Windows 8 by the end of the year.

Turner held up an HP Stream notebook (no one has seen a working version yet, and the specs haven't been published) that's expected to appear in time for the holidays and cost $199. He also pimped new 7- and 8-inch versions of the HP Stream line that apparently will sell for $99.

He showed two slides that touted the coming Windows 8.1 wave. The first listed many new devices, including the Dell XPS 13, which is likely to cost a little bit more than $199. The second showed the Acer Aspire ES1 -- a 15-inch 2.16GHz Celeron, 4GB machine at $250, which is already available -- and a "Toshiba 11.6 inch" with a tiny 32GB SSD and no other hardware specs, also at $250.

The Chromebook-challenging prices reflect Microsoft's "zero dollar" charge for Windows 8.1 on 9-inch and smaller tablets. "Zero royalty was not an easy choice, but it was a necessary choice," Turner said. "We saw 31 new device wins the week we announced this licensing change alone, and it's accelerated every week since then. The proliferation of Windows is happening because of that strategic change."

Well, yes, and the fact that Shenzen -- the district in China where Turner claimed the "new device wins" -- has at least 200 "white box" tablet manufacturers. It's unlikely you would recognize the name of any of them. The Wall Street Journal has an overview of the dog-eat-tablet market in Shenzhen.

Will the $99, $199, and $250 tablets and notebooks have enough oomph to run Windows programs? Hard to say. The no-touch, no-Office 1366 x 768 Acer ES1 is already discounted at several retailers.

Satya Nadella may have more interesting announcements for the Windows 9-starved. He'll be giving the keynote starting at 5:45 a.m. PT (not a typo) on Wednesday. You can watch, if Microsoft can get its broadcast to work this time, at the DigitalWPC website.

This story, "Microsoft hawks cheap hardware, stays mum on Windows 9," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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