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Microsoft and Intel are fighting for the affections of hardware makers as the PC industry tries to answer Apple's iPad.

The world's biggest software company used the annual Computex show in Taiwan to release a preview of Windows Embedded Compact 7 — the latest rebranded version of Windows CE, which has been promised on tablets from Asus, LG, and MSI.

Windows Embedded Compact 7 is Flash-friendly — unlike Apple's tablet. It will offer email, calendar, contacts synchronization with Exchange, Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF viewers, and synchronization with Windows 7 machines. The OS will be released to manufacturing during the fourth quarter.

Microsoft released Windows Embedded Compact 7 preview with a tough message for Linux: Windows will win the heart of PC makers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president of Microsoft's OEM division, pointed out that although Linux had an early lead on netbooks, Windows has now become the dominant operating system for these machines.

"There are always lots of noises at the beginning of a new category," he said. Guggenheimer packed his message with boilerplate about the hidden costs of a "free" operating system. This was a reference to Google's Linux-based Android, but the message was equally applicable to MeeGo, which merged Linux efforts from Intel and Nokia this year and hit version 1.0 last week.

Elsewhere at Computex, Intel fought back by showing MeeGo running on a low-power, Atom processor-based device.

David Perlmutter, the vice president and co-general manager of Intel Architecture Group, offered hardware makers a chip roadmap designed to show Intel's commitment. OEMs have every right to be wary of committing to a mobile Linux OS given that past efforts haven't always panned out.

Perlmutter announced mobile dual-core Atom processors codenamed Oak Trail, due in early 2011. Oak Trail will be optimized for tablets and netbooks, consume 50 per cent less power, and provide full HD-video playback, according to Intel. It will also work with Windows, Google's planned Chrome browser-based operating system, and — significantly — MeeGo.

Early signs were encouraging for MeeGo, at least on the software side. Linux company Linpus announced plans to for a MeeGo-based version of its Linux Lite optimized for Atom processors and featuring improved power management, while PC and server Linux outfits Mandriva, Red Flag, and Turbolinux announced plans for distros based on MeeGo for devices.

Enterprise server staple Novell is also slimming down with the SuSE MeeGo based on MeeGo 1.0 for netbooks and devices. Novell expects SuSE MeeGo to be pre-installed in a variety of devices during the next year.

Hardware makers were less visible in the front line of early supporters, although two important names did wade in. Acer, committed to Google's Chrome and already delivering Windows and Linux netbooks, plans MeeGo-based netbooks in 2010. Asus, while planning a Chrome device of its own, will ship MeeGo machines in 2011, and it will offer an ASUS App Store running on Intel's AppUp Centre.

Clearly aware that MeeGo has piqued the interest of developers and software partners, Intel said its work now lies in getting hardware in the hands of users. Peter Biddle, director of Intel's AppUp products and services told ZDnet Asia: "We need more consumers!" ®

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