Interesting article, it will be an interesting time.
“We started with a vision of a computer on every desk and in every home.” those words, once uttered by Bill Gates himself, are a good measure of Microsoft’s corporate strategy over the past thirty years. But they are also nearly irrelevant — especially today. Microsoft’s focus, after all, no longer lies with just the PC, but with Xbox, Phone and Zune, all of which go far beyond the traditional definition of what a computer should be.And traditionally, computers have relied on x86 processors from Intel and AMD, at least where the majority of consumer and business computers are concerned. Today, that still holds true. But now, the likes of smart phones, tablets and other non-PC devices are commanding an increased share of the market — and they aren’t running a Windows-friendly, x86 architecture either. instead, these mobile devices are based on ARM processors, and as of this year’s Microsoft CES keynote, the next version of Windows will be too. Windows 8, it was announced, will run on ARM-based, system-on-chip platforms from Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and others, just as it does with x86. For an operating system that has spent nearly its entirely existence on a single architecture — Windows NT 4 aside — that’s a big deal.But it’s an even bigger deal for Microsoft’s users. Here’s what we know so far about the next version of Windows on ARM, and what it means for your next PC. what is ARM? as you probably know by now, ARM is an alternative processing architecture found in a myriad of mobile devices, from tablets to smart phones. ARM processors aren’t manufactured by a specific company per-se, but the architecture is licensed to others through ARM Holdings. This is how products likeQualcomm’s Snapdragon, NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 and Texas Instruments’ OMAP are ultimately produced — all based on ARM designs, but with optional add-ons and unique features. Compared to x86 CPUs, which largely dominate the desktop and laptop space, ARM was originally intended for low-power, embedded devices. Routers, digital cameras and even handheld gaming consoles have all used some ARM CPU variant, which typically consume less power and generate less heat than their x86 counterparts. But as the power, speed and flexibility of the ARM architecture has improved, so too have the devices built around it — to a point where Microsoft feels comfortable porting a full-fledged Windows OS to the platform. the Windows Factor in some ways, Windows’ reliance on the x86 processor architecture has limited the sort of devices that third party manufacturers can produce. AMD, for example, has thus-far proved unsuccessful in producing a processor both small and efficient enough to power a portable Windows device in the form of a tablet or slate. And though Intel’snewest generation of processors has improved somewhat in this regard, battery life, device size and weight have yet to match what we’ve seen possible with competing ARM-powered devices.the simple fact is, porting Windows to the ARM architecture — specifically, system-on-chip designs like Snapdragon and Tegra 2 — should allow Microsoft to target a much wider segment of users, ones that go beyond the traditional computing paradigm that Gates once sought. what It Means For Consumers the obvious concern for users will be compatibility. Programs compiled for x86 processors will not run on ARM. And as much as Microsoft would like us to believe that Windows running on ARM will function similar to a traditional x86 system, it’s hard to take the company on its word just yet. For example, the CES keynote included a demonstration of Microsoft Word, ported to the new architecture, as well as limited printer driver support — but these two features does not a PC make. Delivering a comparable experience between x86 and ARM platforms will be key.Case in point, anyone who’s used the 64-bit variant of Windows XP knows all too well how maddening the issue of application compatibility can truly be. Drivers don’t work as they should, applications often refuse to install, and even Microsoft’s own first party products — Office and Windows Messenger, for example — require special versions that differ from the traditional releases.as Ars Technica rightly points out, the solution may lie with .NET. Microsoft’s popular development framework can, in theory, deploy applications that are processor independent if built correctly — though most at present are not. should this habit change, ARM may not prove to be the same second-class citizen as XP 64 or NT 4 — assuming Microsoft can convince developers the architecture is worth developing for in conjunction with traditional x86 Windows. the most important thing to realize, however, is that we simply don’t know what Microsoft has in mind. the Windows 8 development preview shown on-stage lacked a newly-revised UI, and its possible that Microsoft’s ARM variant could very well end up looking nothing like Windows at all. Ports of Office and popular device drivers are no doubt a show of good faith for skeptical developers, and prove that this is indeed the real deal — but that doesn’t mean the final experience will be anything like what we’re used to. Considering the type of devices an ARM processors are typically built for, this could be Microsoft’s play at a revamped, tablet-friendly OS, but with the hardware to back it up. Offering an identical operating system on two different architectures will only confuse consumers, after all, and that’s not something Microsoft can afford to do. what do you think Microsoft has planned for Windows on ARM? Will we see an operating system that differs from the company’s current desktop offering? Or for that matter, different devices, like tablets?