Windows 8 on ARM: Microsoft bets on Office 15 and IE10

WOA: hardware saviour to software challenges?


Battery burn baby, burn

Microsoft wants to ensure that WOA does not fall over and does not burn up the battery – the latter especially is one of the big plusses about ARM. Sinofsky says one reason there aren't any x86 code ports or virtualisation of existing apps on ARM is because this would defeat the idea of longer battery life.

With the safety blanket gone, Windows 8 brings two new ways of doing business: the Windows marketplace – a concept so far mostly pushed on the Windows Phone side of Redmond – and something called WinRT. The latter is Microsoft's Windows Runtime, a programming model and execution environment for Metro UI that lets you develop using C, C++, C#, VB.Net and Javascript. Apps will be downloaded from Microsoft's Windows Store to WOA.

"Consumers obtain all software, including device drivers, through the Windows Store and Microsoft Update or Windows Update," Sinofsky wrote.

Software companies run a huge risk when they change basic tenets or established practices of coding for their software. They risk losing partners and customers that might want to stick with the existing way of working and may drift over to the competition. In Microsoft's case, the threat is less that devs drift to Apple – as there's relatively little historical crossover there – but that Windows devs stick with the x86 way of life.

Microsoft hopes to keep devs on side with its conscious decision to keep the desktop and not jettison it entirely for a future of Metro-UI touch and the Windows Store. Hence Office 15. It's also the thinking behind WinRT.

Sinofsky blogged: "Some have suggested we might remove the desktop from WOA in an effort to be pure, to break from the past, or to be more simplistic or expeditious in our approach. To us, giving up something useful that has little cost to customers was a compromise that we didn't want to see in the evolution of PCs."

Success for Microsoft's Windows 8 bet will depend on two factors, however. The first is whether WinRT proves to be as smooth as Microsoft has contended. If so, then it stands a chance of carrying existing developers skilled in programming for Windows. This is something Microsoft is counting on, to open up a new platform to its standing army of coders.

WinPho and Silverlight once more

This kind of thinking was also found in Windows Phone and Silverlight. That is, if you made the tools and development framework smooth and painless enough for existing Visual Studio PC coders, they could also code for Windows Phone or Silverlight. The market didn't flip.

The second factor Microsoft is banking on – and which is more or less out of its control – will be popularity of ARM PC devices running NVIDIA, Qualcom and Texas Instruments designs that are due at the "same time" as Windows 8 for x86 systems. It's the sexiness of the device and its ease of use that has helped sell things like the iPad, iPhone and Kindle to end user and coder alike. Large market share has given developers something they can address, not simplified coding frameworks and tools.

The ARM PC makers have proved a lot less leaky and showy than their x86 cousins, so it remains an unknown just what's coming and whether they can seduce devs as successfully as Apple's iPhone and iPad. So far, all we have is Sinofsky's predictable promise that what is coming will have been worth waiting for.

"PC manufacturers are hard at work on PCs designed from the ground up to be great and exclusively for WOA," Microsoft's Windows man said.

The bet is still in play. ®


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