Microsoft looks to expand influence over PC makers

With Windows 8, Microsoft seeks more involvement with how PC makers design their hardware

As it works to bring its touch-enabled Windows 8 operating system to market, Microsoft is trying to extend its influence over PC makers to ensure they build systems that are best able to run its new software.

"For Windows 8 systems to be the best ever, we're taking a new approach to how we work with our partners in the ecosystem," said Michael Angiulo, the Microsoft vice president in charge of Windows planning, hardware and ecosystem, as he demonstrated the new OS to Microsoft's hardware partners in Taipei on Thursday.

Microsoft wants to influence PC manufacturers over such details as the aspect ratio they choose for displays, where buttons and radio antennas are located, and even the width of the bezel, or rim, around the edge of the screen.

"From day one we've started engineering these systems with a much closer degree of hardware-software integration than ever, and that integration starts with manufacturing and continues all the way through to the final system configuration," Angiulo said.

Shown for the first time this week, Windows 8 has a touch-screen interface that looks very different from previous versions of the OS, but which Microsoft says will also work well on PCs controlled with a mouse and keyboard.

Developers will have the option to write native Windows applications using HTML 5, Javascript and CSS, as well as the C code they used in the past. The HTML 5 applications appear on the screen as colored tiles, a bit like the interface on Microsoft's Windows 7 Phone software.

Angiulo showed Windows 8 running on a wide-screen PC with a 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. "We think the best way to experience Windows 8 is that sort of orientation," he told the hardware executives in the audience.

Microsoft also has "ideas" about "where to put buttons and where to put radio antennas to get maximum performance," he said.

The edge of the screen becomes more important with touch interfaces, and Microsoft has "recommendations about bevel sizes, so that you can easily hold the system without activating the UI inadvertently, and still be able to reach all the keys for things like thumb-typing," Angiulo said.

"We're working with display and touch vendors right now, and we're going to have more guidence and recommendations about how to build a really great Windows 8 system in the next couple of months," he said.

Greater involvement in the hardware design should help Microsoft optimize the look and usability Windows 8 systems. It's a problem Apple doesn't have to worry about, since it controls every aspect of the design and manufacturing of its Macintosh, iPhone and iPad computers.

But it's unclear how PC makers will respond to Microsoft's efforts to expand its influence on their products. And those efforts may extend further than the hardware design, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday.

Citing unnamed sources, the Journal reported that Microsoft is requiring microprocessor makers to each partner with one PC maker, to help bring new Windows tablets to market quickly.

Steve Guggenheimer, the head of Microsoft's OEM business, declined to comment when asked about the report ahead of Thursday's Windows 8 event. Officials from Texas Instruments and Qualcomm also declined to comment.

Microsoft will also introduce a new product activation system with Windows 8, called OEM Activation 3.0, Angiulo said.

"This is a digital product-key technology that's going to streamline the configuration and development process for building PCs," he said. "For end users it means a seamless activation experience, and for partners it will streamline their supply chain operations when we're building PCs together."

He didn't provide further details. Activation keys are a way for Microsoft to ensure people are using legitimate, licensed versions of its software, as part of its efforts to fight piracy.

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