Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

Summary: WOA looks like Windows, quacks like Windows, and is Windows. Microsoft has pulled off what it promised, and has taken its desktop OS and put it across multiple platforms and onto various screen sizes.

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Yesterday Microsoft published a details piece over on the Building Windows 8 blog which looked at how the company took the x86 Windows that we know, and re-imagined it for the ARM architecture. Then, early this morning I got the opportunity to take a look at a pre-release version of the Windows on ARM (WOA) code running on a real machine, and I'm now more convinced than I've ever been that Microsoft has got it right.

Let's start with the official blog post. This long and detailed post (we expect no less from the Building Windows 8 blog team), we get a lot of answers to questions that have been floating around for weeks. Specifically:

  • 'Out of the box' experience will look and feel just like Windows 8 on x86/x64 hardware.
  • The Windows desktop will still be available on WOA devices.
  • Tools such as the Windows File Explorer and Internet Explorer will be available.
  • PC makers will ship WOA devices at the same time as Windows 8 PCs ship.
  • WOA will include Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
  • WOA will not support any type of virtualization or emulation approach, and will not enable existing x86/64 applications to be ported or run because of the adverse effect this would have on battery life.
  • Microsoft is working to deliver WOA PCs that will combine three features: Thin and light in industrial design, long battery life, and integrated quality.
  • WOA PCs will be clearly labeled and branded so as to avoid customer confusion with Windows 8 on x86/64.
  • WOA will not be available as a software-only distribution.
  • A WOA PC/device will feel more like a consumer electronics device rather than a traditional PC.

This is all awesome stuff. But it gets better. This morning I got the chance to take a peek at WOA running on a device. It wasn't hands-on exactly, and I wasn't allowed to take screenshots or photos, but what I was shown was interesting. The OS is looking good, and there's been a lot of changes since the developer preview. The touch UI has seen a lot of improvements and refinements.

I can also confirm that Microsoft Office 15 apps exist. They're NOT like the desktop Office applications that you're currently using, but more like hybrid apps. From what I saw (taking into account that this is unfinished code), the ARM versions of Office seem to offer all the features of their desktop counterparts. They're highly customized for touch, but this I've been told won't result in compromises. There won't be a gulf between Office on WOA devices and x86/x64 PCs like there is say between iWork applications on a Mac, and their equivalent on iOS devices.

And this is why Apple should be worried. So far I've been concerned that WOA would offer a cut-down, Fisher Price soft of Windows experience. It would look at a bit like duck, quack something like a duck, but actually be more of a platypus than a duck, and that ultimately this would be its undoing. But now I realize that I was wrong. WOA looks like Windows, quacks like Windows, and is Windows. Microsoft has pulled off what it promised, and has taken its desktop OS and put it across multiple platforms and onto various screen sizes. This changes how we look at tablets.

Apple has maintained a gulf between the Mac OS and iOS on a number of fronts. While we're seeing some unification (in many ways with the migration of iOS features into the Mac OS), you can't argue that there's still a big chasm between the two platforms. While ARM inevitably introduces a difference between it and x86/x64 simply because of the lack of legacy support, it's a much smaller gap, both in terms of usability and functionality. While I think that the iPad 3 and iOS 5.1 will represent evolutionary change rather than a revolution, if WOA devices take off (still a big if in my opinion), The iPad 4 and iOS 6.x may have to spice things up a few more notches to counter the Windows effect.

I'm still concerned about the heavy Metro UI on the desktop, and still hope that there will be a way for users to disable this on non-touch devices, and I'm sort of surprised by Microsoft's decision to kill the Start button, but as far as that Metro UI is concerned, Microsoft has created a consistent experience across X86/x64 and ARM.

It's fair to say that I'm impressed. Very impressed.

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Topics: Windows, Browser, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Processors, Software

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  • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

    "Im still concerned about the heavy Metro UI on te desktop"<br><br>I'm not, and here's why: Windows right now relies more on "legacy" x86/64 applications, which means most users will be spending most of their time in the "Desktop Hub", than they will in the Metro environment. <br><br>Ask yourself this: How many times do you click on the 'Start Menu' throughout the day? Whatever your answer is, is how much you'll see Metro (not including starting up the PC). So, you don't even need to go there if you don't want to, simply unpin all the junk at just have your most used apps along with the desktop tile. But, according to WinUnLeaks, mouse/keyboard interaction is greatly improved.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Not much

      @Cylon Centurion

      There are better ways of getting where/what you need to run than the Start button......
      rhonin
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @rhonin

        Agreed, my most used apps are not launched from the Start button.
        Rob.sharp
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @Cylon Centurion people will get used to using the physical windows button just like using the home button on android devices. Its in almost all keyboards now so why have it take abit of your screen if you have it physically infront of you. If people keep on complaining well they could just make an option.. rightclick taskbar... show/hide start button simple..

        Bigger problems in the world and the computing world than a button on the bottom left of your screen. Media just making a fuss out of nothing.
        SonicLogic
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @rhonin
        In fact the start button is worthless,the search bar is faster.
        SylvainT
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @soniclogic

        "so why have it take abit of your screen if you have it physically infront of you."

        simple - Windows always has multiple paths to the same option. SO for every GUI element you see there is likely a command line and/or powershell equivalent and likely a physical key or a hot key combination - BUT if you want to, you should be able to navigate using the pointer as well. This is just one of the things that makes Windows what it is.

        So if you start hacking away chunks of the GUI, just because you don't feel a need for it to be there, what the hell are you supposed to do when your keyboard is not responding? We're not living in Apple toyland here. This is an operating system for people who USE their computers. You need options - Windows gives you options.
        12312332123
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @Traxxion
        agree!
        msolae
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @SonicLogic
        While I'm sure there will be a workaround, you don't consider that some of us cryps can't use a standard keyboard, mine does not have a "windows" key.
        rustek
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @rustek ...

        Control + Esc = Windows Key
        WarhavenSC
    • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

      @Cylon Centurion whatever ipad is dead post win 8.
      augustus_rome
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @augustus_rome

        It's not going to be dead but WOA will take a chunk of the market and just in time to infiltrate the corporate world.
        Rob.sharp
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @augustus_rome spews: "ipad is dead post win 8"

        Thanks for giving me my biggest laugh for the month of February.
        bobjones2007
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @augustus_rome
        hehe. I think that is is premature to predict that some iPad of the future is dead because of an unreleased OS running on tablets that haven't been built yet. Time and again we have heard stories of up and coming iPad killers from vendor after vendor. I still haven't seen one complete. God only knows what kind of hardware will be released and at what price points. Today, One Note runs pretty well on my iPad and I have heard rumors that MS is going to release an iPad version of Office. That would satisfy a lot of tablet users...
        rcosby
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @augustus_rome
        It won't be dead. Far from it because of the legion of ifanatics will ensure it survives. But that doesn't mean apple won't get hammered. The big IF is can windows devices sell well enough to take shares away from apple. If it does, then even if ifanatics props up apple sales, apple will inevitably take a hit. And the way the stock moves with big quarterly gains and revenue increases, it would only take 2 quarters of revenue dips to make the stock plummet. That is how wall street works whether people like it or not. If it does plummet, then you will see a desperation move to curb spending and that will be in support, quality and r&d.
        rengek
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @augustus_rome
        ask youself. in the entire computing ecosystem how many ipad users are there, really? it's in the 1-2% range. yeah, really. so, yeah, post win8 ipad is dead, not because the 1-2% will disappear or not grow, but because the win8 tab share will be so huge to make the ipad market appear utterly inconsequential.
        faust4445
    • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

      @Cylon Centurion If that's how you view then DON'T get Windows 8 on ARM, you NEED Windows 8 on x86_64.

      This suggests that Microsoft have got Windows 8 on ARM wrong...

      Personally, I don't rate Windows 8 on ARM, I can't see it addresses a real need. It doesn't offer any of the advantages of Windows, and Office running on it isn't well optimised for touch.

      If I were thinking about Windows 8 I'd probably be looking at Lenovo's Yoga (or a traditional PC, and trying to ignore Metro as much as possible). Agree?
      jeremychappell
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @jeremychappell

        I might go for an WoA tablet regardless, depending on price, but the thing about WoA, is that it is a FULL, no compromise operating system, and not a watered down, mobile OS. This fact already gives it a leg up on iOS. Hey, look, I can finally haz proper multitasking!
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Pie in the sky

        [i]I can also confirm that Microsoft Office 15 apps exist. They???re NOT like the desktop Office applications that you???re currently using, but more like hybrid apps. From what I saw (taking into account that this is unfinished code), the ARM versions of Office seem to offer all the features of their desktop counterparts. They???re highly customized for touch, but this I???ve been told won???t result in compromises. There won???t be a gulf between Office on WOA devices and x86/x64 PCs like there is say between iWork applications on a Mac, and their equivalent on iOS devices.[/i]

        Pie in the sky. There will be compromises. Whenever anybody promises the moon, that's exactly what they get. The moon.
        ScorpioBlue
      • Cylon, you better take another look.

        @Cylon Centurion: Without the ability to run legacy applications, WoA is exactly what you say it isn't, a "watered down, mobile OS." Quite literally, it's stripped of almost everything that makes Windows, Windows.
        Vulpinemac
      • RE: Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried

        @vulpine

        Not really. Not if developers port their desktop apps to ARM. If Windows only apps move to ARM, that will be a game changing killer right there.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion