Microsoft to give Windows away for phones, small tablets

The move is an attempt to increase the OS' presence in those devices, where Android and iOS rule

Hardware vendors making smartphones and tablets with screens smaller than 9 inches will get Windows for free, the latest aggressive move by Microsoft to help its flagship OS improve its position in these devices.

"We really want to get this platform out there. We want to remove all the friction between you and creating these devices," Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Operating Systems group, said during the company's Build conference in San Francisco.

The move is a dramatic example of the sense of urgency Microsoft feels regarding Windows' weak position against iOS and Android in the smartphone and tablet markets, which Apple and Google have capitalized upon in recent years.

It's also an acknowledgement by Microsoft that the once rock-solid franchise of Windows is giving way to a new reality and that the old "Windows first" corporate mantra is now misguided and obsolete.

For example, Microsoft, which traditionally protected Windows at the expense of Office, has now released a version of Office for iPads before finishing work on its "touch first" Office version for Windows 8 and 8.1 tablets, something that would have been unthinkable for the company to do a few years ago.

However, CEO Satya Nadella, taking the stage later, pointed out that Windows continues to be a key product for the company, and that users, developers and IT pros can expect to see continued innovation for the platform.

"Why build for Windows?," Nadella said, echoing a question posed to him by a developer via video. "That's the question of the conference. That's the question of this morning. You should build for Windows because we're going to innovate with a challenger mindset."

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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