Microsoft Menlo mobile OS tipped to replace CE: “frankenOS” for cross-platform compatibility

May 5, 2010

Windows CE isn't exactly the most popular of mobile platforms, but it's still reasonably common to find it hiding underneath the custom UI of various MIDs, PMPs and other devices, not to mention Microsoft's own Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7 and Zune OSes.  Now, Microsoft are apparently looking at replacing CE with a new platform, codenamed Microsoft Menlo, which combines Windows NT for mobile devices with a new "Experiment 19" graphics platform.  According to Mary Jo Foley's digging, the project is being led by Galen Hunt, who's also responsible for Microsoft'a Singularity work.

Microsoft Research, unsurprisingly, aren't saying much about Menlo - though it's given a brief namecheck on Hunt's own MR People page - but there are tidbits to be found.  Hunt's LinkedIn profile, for instance, mentions the following:

"Co-lead two of the largest cross-group research projects in MSR’s history: the Menlo and Singularity projects. Menlo combined OS, UX, and applications research to explore the future of computing when mobiles becomes users primary PCs. Singularity combined language, tools, and OS research to determine how to build more reliable systems and built a new OS from scratch in managed code."

Foley then talked to Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry, who suggested that Microsoft could be looking to "follow Apple's lead" and develop a tablet-friendly platform on which regular Windows apps could be relatively easily ported.  He describes that as a "frankenOS" of sorts:

"Microsoft could follow Apple’s lead and build a similar tablet on CE or Windows Phone 7, and have developers create CE and Web based applications for it….Mostly, it would be a rival to the iPad with similar battery life attributes.  Microsoft could even add some USB ports just to differentiate the connectability.  They could also open the carrier access.

"Second, Microsoft could build a tablet on Windows 7 Standard Embedded, and really be ruthless in removing Windows 7 components that do not make sense in the ‘new’ tablet scenarios. I have not seen any attempt to use what they have to create a truly “designed for tablet” version of OS (key here is instead of adding tablet extensions you remove non-tablet components of the base OS)."

That actually sounds a lot like our own Courier speculation, in which we suggested that Microsoft's apparent abandonment of the dual-display digital notebook concept was in fact only a move to cut off talk of Microsoft-produced Courier hardware.  Instead, they could take the Courier customisations and develop a special tablet build - as Cherry says, "really be ruthless" in stripping out any superfluous functionality - that third-party manufacturers could then put onto their own hardware.  Indeed, several firms have already suggested they have notebook-style hardware on the way though they've been coy with their OS preferences.  Such a plan would also mean that porting apps over from other Microsoft platforms could be easier, both to the newly customized tablet and to mobile devices.  Of course, this is all some way in the future (if it evens pans out that way), but it's good to think that Microsoft might be doing the sensible thing and pulling together the different strands of their various computing options.

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