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Is Windows 8 heading to a smaller screen?

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Microsoft’s new Windows management team is coming into its own.

Last week, I met with Tami Reller, the chief financial officer and chief marketing officer for the Windows/Surface teams. Reller was on a New York City tour, meeting with financial analysts and press. Reller is one of the pair of executives running Windows, following the departure from Microsoft of Windows President Steven Sinofsky late last year.

My sit-down with Reller — my first meeting with Windows management in a number of years — was more interesting for the between-the-lines tidbits and nuances than it was for the parade of PCs and tablets that she and Aidan Marcuss, principal director, Windows Research, pulled out of their bags to show off.

Here are a few of the topics upon which we touched during our conversation:

How well is/isn’t Windows 8 selling? Reller didn’t veer from Microsoft’s message that Windows 8 is on pace with Windows 7 in terms of number of licenses sold during its first few months. (Microsoft sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses to original equipment manufacturers and to consumers as upgrades by early January 2013, executives have said. ) But she did share one new metric during our meeting: OEM revenue Microsoft is deriving from sales of Windows 8 is even with OEM revenue garnered from Windows 7 licenses sold during the same period of time. We don’t know if Microsoft charged OEMs the same per copy for Windows 7 and Windows 8, but the implication is OEMs are buying Windows 8 licenses at the same pace as they bought Windows 7 ones.

A Windows 8/Windows RT “mini?” To date, word was that Microsoft didn’t see a need for tablets and PCs with screens smaller than the 10.6-inch Surfaces. Microsoft’s stance was tablets equals PCs and thus must be able to do all consumption and creation tasks that “real” PCs can do. When I asked Reller last week about the possibility of 7-inch “mini” Windows 8 and Windows RT PCs, I received a less rigid answer — more along the lines of “let’s see what customers want.”

Windows 8 was designed to run on smaller and bigger screens and at different resolutions. The underlying app-platform/app model is what enables this, Marcuss emphasized. So, again, no announcement today, but it seems as though one or more Windows 8/Windows RT “mini” tablets are likely waiting in the wings…making rumors of products like a 7-inch HTC tablet and the rumored Xbox Surface more believable.

First-party Windows 8 and Windows RT apps: Yes, Microsoft knows that Mail/Calendar/People and Xbox Music on Windows 8 and Windows RT need real work, and not just a few minor updates. Reller didn’t share any kind of time table as to when these apps will be updated in a significant way. But it was encouraging to hear that Microsoft is committed to making these “first-party”/built-in apps best-of-breed. Happily, the team isn’t pretending these apps are good enough.

Where are all the Windows 8/Windows RT PCs and tablets? Why more than three months after Windows 8 “launched” (and about six months after it was released to manufacturing) are there still relatively few new Windows 8/Windows RT touch tablets and PCs available to consumers? OEMs have known for years what Microsoft was planning for Windows 8. So what happened? Reller isn’t attributing the relatively slow ramp-up to any kind of components shortage. She said the Windows team is trying to figure this out themselves. She said the team is looking at every communication between the OEMs and Microsoft during the Windows 8 development period. Was there a program, a campaign, a missive that would have convinced OEMs to put more muscle behind touch sooner rather than later? Reller said the team is looking into this.

Also, for the record, Reller isn’t blaming the relatively slow ramp-up to any kind of components shortage. She is emphasizing the positive: The number of Windows 8 certified devices (1,000 at launch in late October) is now double that. Lots of new Windows 8 form factors from Lenovo, HP, ASUS, Acer, and others are coming to market in the February-through-spring time frame, she reiterated.

The Microsoft-Intel relationship: “It feels like we’re doing better aligning with Intel on messaging,” Reller told me last week. For a while, it’s felt as though Microsoft was highlighting its work on Windows RT and ARM to push Intel to speed up its chip-delivery timing. Now that the Intel Core i5-based Surface Pro is poised to start shipping on February 9, the Wintel partnership seems to be back, front and center, in Microsoft’s positioning and thinking.

The Windows distribution connundrum: While Microsoft is continuing to staff more Microsoft Stores, the pace is still too slow for those of us who consider Best Buy, Staples, and other retail chains not-so-optimal showcases for Microsoft’s and its partners’ hardware and software. But the Windows team seemingly isn’t writing off these other retailers. “We need to get Surface RT and Surface Pro in retail and do it really well,” Reller told me. She said Microsoft believes it can make the buying experience in retail chains a positive one for those shopping for Microsoft or OEM PCs and tablets.

I haven’t seen customers busting down doors to buy any kind of Windows 8 or Windows RT PCs or tablets in the admittedly small number of retail stores and Microsoft Stores I’ve visited. Reller said Microsoft has seen the dynamic for PC purchasing changing. The retail store experience is more of an exploratory, educational “try before you buy this online” one these days, she said. (That’s not so different from what’s happening in the book-selling world.)

There you have it. No earth-shattering revelations (sorry, Windows Blue watchers). But it’s still good to have a chance to ask questions and get some answers from the Windows brass in person.




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