Microsoft’s Tablet Strategy and How Linux Compares

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Last week at CES, Microsoft announced their answer to the iPad with their tablet strategy. Computerworld says, “Microsoft has decided not to follow the Apple and Google route of putting its mobile operating system on tablets. Instead, Microsoft has chosen a more deliberate method where it will migrate its client OS onto tablets.” Microsoft also announced it will wait until its port of Windows 7 to ARM chips is complete. Pundits have criticized this strategy as being out-dated in today’s fast moving tablet market.

What exactly are they criticizing?

1. The time it will take for Microsoft to ready this system. Because Microsoft is waiting for its next release cycle, this Windows Tablet OS isn’t expected until 2012. That’s a lifetime in a  market like this.

2. Microsoft is taking a desktop client and force fitting it into a tablet form factor. That likely means tablets running Windows will need more processor power and have shorter battery life than those running Linux-based or iOS variants. It wasn’t designed to be flexible and run in different computing environments — it was designed for resource-hogging desktops.

So how does Linux’s tablet strategy compare? Well, it doesn’t. Unlike Microsoft, Linux isn’t controlled by a single entity. Linux is instead powering a variety of vendors’ tablet strategies today.  You may have seen the new Motorola Xoom tablet announced at CES ? Based on Linux with an Android VM. The Samsung Tablet? Also Linux. And the hot selling mobile OS Android? Also Linux. Vendors are free to pick and choose what they want from the Linux platform and customize it on their own terms. Because of the nature of collaborative development, this speeds development.

And of course Linux vendors benefit from the network effect of shared development. When one of those vendors/projects improves battery life for their project in the Linux kernel, all other projects benefit.

Linux already works on ARM, and virtually every other architecture. Linux was designed for architecture portability and because it’s open, companies like Intel and IBM can work on optimizing the code for their platforms. This is one reason there is so much cross-architecture support.

The Linux kernel has a release every three months, not the three years of Windows releases. This means you can create software advances that match the state of hardware as they happen.

Microsoft is trying to adjust to a new game using old game pieces, which is making it hard for them to move quickly. Microsoft’s legacy model (and its success) makes it hard to change. Of course you can never count them out; they’ve defined desktop computing and continue to grow in those area and others (take a look at Kinect). But one can see that when flexibility and speed are called upon, it’s difficult for them to keep up.