Windows on ARM (tax?)

One of the things that shocked me most last year was hearing that Windows 8 *is* the tablet strategy for Microsoft. I was fully expecting some compromised OS that straddled between Windows Phone 7 and Windows CE, I then assumed this would represent the middle tier of devices. Build 2011 disabused me of that notion completely.

In order to compete on multiple form factors Microsoft appears to be attempting a "One Ring to Rule them All" approach. Having fully reimagined the touch vernacular the idea is that one OS can essentially serve two masters. That you can have all the precision of the mouse and still shift to a fully touch enabled world (Metro).


While Microsoft's alliance with Intel and AMD (x86/64) is well documented for Window's main OS there has been a whole class of hardware that has been assiduously avoided, namely ARM based systems. ARM is a 32-bit reduced instruction set computer (RISC) instruction set architecture developed by ARM Holdings. The ARM architecture is the most widely used 32-bit RISC architecture and the ARM processor's power efficiency, performing the same amount of work as other 32-bit processors while consuming one-tenth the amount of electricity. This has resulted in the widespread dominant use of the ARM processor in mobile devices and embedded systems. In 2005, about 98% of the more than one billion mobile phones sold each year used at least one ARM processor. The following is an abbreviated list of devices using the ARM processor for high end touch capable devices:

This remains the exact type of consumer hardware Microsoft has traditionally poorly handled. The main focus of the high end ARM processors appears to be:

  • All day active use/multiple days standby availability

  • High definition multimedia

  • Web 2.0 internet experience without sacrificing mobility

  • A healthy ecosystem providing diverse apps, integration, for the consumer experience

It is important as developers and IT experts to understand that while Windows on ARM (WOA) shares most of the common code and features of Windows 8, it would simultaneously be true that WOA constitutes a radically different branch and version of Windows. WOA enables a new type of PC with significant portions that may not be compatible with Windows 8 on x86/64. There is a clear indication that Microsoft has created all new metro tools for mail, calendaring, contacts, photos, and storage. Even more significant is that WOA will include its own desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These applications have been redesigned for touch and minimized power consumption. It will be interesting to see how licenses are calculated based on what is essentially two versions of Windows, will I need a new license key for a WOA version of Office?

This revelation leads to the question of what kind of development and deployment strategies will be needed when we start making applications that are not part of WinRT but still need to run on both WOA and Windows 8 x86/64? Will the bifurcation of Windows lead to a tax on all development efforts? Is there even an expectation for non Metro apps in the WOA world? Will we simply see a new Platform target?


I have yet to download Visual Studio 11 beta so I may be making a mountain out of a mole hill. I get that sense though that this tablet strategy will end applying some kind of technical tax and make our lives a little more complicated.


UPDATE: Windows RT will be a special versions Windows for WOA, more work for us all. Looks like office will be the only non Metro app applied outside the marketplace.

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