Microsoft getting back to business at 100th annual retailing show

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Microsoft may have talked up an ARM-based future for “big Windows” at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but it’s getting back to business at the National Retail Federation (NRF) convention in New York. The event will showcase solutions using the Windows Embedded Standard, Windows Embedded POSReady, and Windows Embedded Handheld operating systems, according to the company.

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This week’s CES surprised some observers via Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s announcement that the company will port “big Windows” — perhaps to be known as Windows 8, though neither a name nor timeframe was revealed — onto ARM processors. Combined with the fact that today’s ARM-based Windows Embedded Compact 7 “got no keynote or press conference love” (in the words earlier today of Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley), the event conspired to make it seem as though Microsoft had lost interest in its existing embedded operating systems.

Fortunately, that doesn’t actually seem to be the case. Leaving the world of chatter about what might happen two years from now, and returning to a realm where money actually changes hands, Microsoft will be staging its typically significant presence at next week’s National Retail Federation (NRF) show in New York.

This year marks the 100th for the NRF convention, described by its organizers as “the world’s leading retail event, bringing 18,500 retail executives and vendors from more than 50 countries together.” Of more than 600 exhibitors, the majority are outside the IT industry, but heavy-hitters such as Cisco, Fujitsu, Honeywell, IBM, NCR, Wincor Nixdorf, and many others are all represented, in addition to Microsoft.

Microsoft says it will showcase platforms and technologies tailored for the retail and hospitality markets, including Windows Embedded POSReady, Windows Embedded Handheld, and “next-generation” digital signage products. Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail and Microsoft Dynamics CRM software will also be shown off, the company says, with the aid of partners such as Aladata Solution, Avande, HCL Technologies, and Retaligent Solutions.

According to Redmond, Microsoft executives will participate in the following “Big ideas and super sessions events,” all held at the Javits Convention Center:

* Monday, Jan. 10, 11:30 a.m.noon — Translate Customer Understanding Into Differentiated Strategies
o Speaker: Randy Misener, retail solutions director, Avanade

* Monday, Jan. 10, 33:30 p.m. — Connecting Your Business to Devices and Customers with Windows Embedded
o Speaker: Barb Edson, senior director of marketing, Windows Embedded, Microsoft

* Monday, Jan. 10, 4:455:15 p.m. — Aligning the Agendas of the CMO and CIO
o Speakers: Tom Kersten, national retail director, Microsoft, and Jeong Woo, retail specialist, Microsoft

* Tuesday, Jan. 11, 8:309:30 a.m. — Super Session: Making the Retail Business Dynamic
o Speaker: Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president, Microsoft Business Solutions, and featured guest Bill Fields, chairman, China Horizon

* Tuesday, Jan. 11, 11:30 a.m.noon — Winning in Retail Today and Tomorrow
o Speakers: Dilip Popat, global retail industry director, Microsoft Dynamics, and Michael Griffiths, global retail group product director, Microsoft Dynamics

* Tuesday, Jan. 11, 1:452:15 p.m. — Connected Customer Centricity: Customer Relationship Management in the Digital Age
o Speakers: Bill Patterson, director, product management, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, and Javed Sikander, global retail technology strategist, Microsoft

No specifics about hardware to be showcased were provided, but it’s a safe bet Windows Embedded Standard 7 devices will be shown that employ Intel Core i5 or i7 processors and the chipmaker’s recently announced Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) for digital signage devices.

Intel’s OPS was unveiled in October during a keynote at the Digital Signage Expo 2010 in San Diego. It’s said the spec, which is supported by Microsoft, NEC, and Taiwan’s Digital Signage Special Interest Group, will help standardize the design and development of digital signs.

The chipmaker said in October that standardization will “enable easier installation, use, and maintenance,” as well as making digital signs “more intelligent and connected.” Such products are unique in that not only must they often be available 24/7, but also failures can be blatantly obvious and embarrassing.

The complete OPS specification is available only to “approved applicants,” according to Intel, but involves the use of Core processors and the Windows Embedded Standard operating system. A “fanless and compact” prototype was shown off in San Diego, and included both vPro technology and KVM (keyboard video mouse) redirection capabilities, the company adds.

The massive Intel/Microsoft Intelligent Digital Signage Concept

We also expect NRF attendees to get another glimpse of the Intel/Microsoft Intelligent Digital Signage Concept device that was shown off last year. Pictured above, this sports a seven-foot-six-inch multitouch screen touted as having holographic glass, plus a camera that allows the Windows-based system to estimate the gender and age of anyone passing by it.