updated 11:30 am EDT, Tue May 4, 2010
MS Menlo would drop Win CE for Win NT core
Microsoft is engaged in a project that would bring the core of its desktop OS to smartphones and other mobile devices, an investigation revealed today. The strategy would replace the Windows CE core used in Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7 and Zune HD with the same Windows NT foundation that has persisted even up to Windows 7. A graphics layer known as Experiment 19 would scale the experience down to handheld sizes.
A number of current and former Microsoft Research members have identified themselves as part of the Menlo team.
How the implementation would work isn't known, but the incentive to switch to the NT core would likely come from apps, as it would finally let Microsoft use a similar platform across all of its devices. In spite of using the Windows brand for its phones, Windows CE and desktop Windows apps are fundamentally different as they support different processor architectures and have different frameworks for the apps themselves. A unified system would still need app changes to accommodate touchscreens but could port a desktop app to the phone or back relatively quickly.
How soon it would launch, or if it would launch at all, is a mystery. Sources have told ZDNet that Microsoft might not necessarily require a whole architecture change and could instead tell Windows Phone 7 developers to simply focus on Silverlight, which runs on top of Windows CE and can be ported to the desktop without necessarily having to restart the app from scratch.
An OS of the sort is a potential advantage for Microsoft, which suffered two setbacks to its tablet ambitions last week and may need a new OS initiative to recover. The HP slate may have been killed precisely because a full, conventional Windows 7 release was too complex for a tablet and required a power-hungry Atom processor. In turn, Courier was shelved for unknown reasons, but its rumored Windows CE-based, dual-screen UI may have been deemed impractical.
Apple has sold over 1 million iPads in its first month of sales and is often thought to be credited precisely because it uses a mobile OS optimized for a larger screen size rather than a shrunken desktop OS. Menlo may strike a balance between the two by allowing a mobile UI but desktop-quality apps.