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Microsoft previews Windows for tablets

By Julianne Pepitone, staff reporter

LAS VEGAS (CNNMoney) -- Microsoft offered a first look at a new, tablet friendly version of Windows that will support a "system on a chip" -- but the word "tablet" barely came up.

Microsoft demoed the as-yet-unnamed new Windows in a surprise press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday. System on a chip, called SoC, takes the major components of a computer -- like the motherboard and CPU -- and puts them in a thin silicon chip. That chip can fit into small devices like tablets.

Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft's Windows division, stressed throughout the presentation that he was not talking about "form factors or user interfaces." Instead, "this is more of a technical, under-the-covers look at Windows," he said.

Oddly, the tablet talk lasted only a few minutes -- in fact, the word was mentioned only fleetingly. Instead, Sinofsky and a Microsoft press release continually referred to new Windows "supporting a new kind of hardware, SoC architectures, that will power the next generation of devices."

Microsoft has taken significant heat for its lag in the tablet market.

"No one is sleeping at the switch here," CEO Steve Ballmer told analysts at a meeting in July. "We have got to make things happen with Windows 7 on slates. We're in the process of doing that as we speak."

Sinofsky pointed out Wednesday that system hardware requirements had doubled with each new release of Windows until Windows 7 -- which was the first time the requirements dropped slightly.

"That was fine until devices started getting smaller. Even with netbooks, there was a question of whether we'd have to go back to Windows XP," Sinofsky said. "Now we're able to cram so much capability into a single, little chip."

Sinofsky demoed the next-gen Windows running on new SoC platforms from several partners: AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm, ARM and Texas Instruments.

The demo showed the new Windows running HD video on an HD screen, with hardware-accelerated HTML5 and graphics.

Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) also announced a 2.0 version of its Surface touchscreen, which is now thinner and uses infrared sensors instead of a camera.

In a question-and-answer session, Sinofsky refused to answer several queries about Windows 7 Mobile and what the next-gen Windows means for cell phones.

"Like I said, today we didn't talk about any form factors," Sinofsky repeated. "I'm not making any calls on that." To top of page

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