Microsoft's Windows 8 will run on ARM architecture in addition to PC that use traditional x86 chips, and the company has finally unleashed a host of details about how that will work.
Microsoft has issued some additional details about Windows
on ARM, for which it uses the acronym WOA. The operating system on that
architecture will play a vital part in the companys long-term strategy for
tablets and other mobile form factors.
When the release version of Windows 8 appears sometime in
late 2012, it will come on both ARM and x86 hardware.
The operating system has been redesigned to operate with equal aplomb on
traditional PCs and tablets: The start screen of colorful tiles linked to
applications is eminently touchable (all the better for small, portable
touch-screens), and paired to a desktop with all the requisite tools for power users.
Although Windows on ARM is an initiative meant to capture
the tablet market, Microsoft is moving quickly to position WOA as equally
capable of handling users productivity needs. Within the Windows desktop, WOA
includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and
OneNote, code-named Office 15, Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsofts
Windows and Windows Live division, wrote in a Feb. 9 posting on the corporate Building
Windows 8 blog. WOA will be a no-compromise product for people who want
to have the full benefits of familiar Office productivity software and
However, he also cautioned that WOA will not support any
type of virtualization or emulation approach, and will not enable existing
x86/64 applications to be ported or run. Virtualized or emulated software,
apparently, will result in excessive consumption of system resources like battery
life and CPU. If you need to run existing x86/64 software, then you will be
best serviced with Windows 8 on x86/64.
In other words, for those who want to make a new WOA tablet
their primary productivity platform, the combination of hardware and software
could fit their needs, but those power users with a substantial amount of
legacy software might want to acquire a system based on x86.
Those developers who wish to port existing apps onto WOA
have a couple of options. Many apps will be best served by building new Metro-style front ends for existing data sources or applications, Sinofsky wrote,
and communicating through a Web services API. Those best served by this
approach include line-of-business applications and consumer Web properties.
The other potential solution centers on reusing large
amounts of engine or runtime code, and surround that with a Metro style
experience, something he cautioned would take some time.
Microsoft has been working with a handful of ARM licensees,
including Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and Nvida;
in turn, these firms have been working with hardware manufactures on the
creation of actual devices running WOA. Microsoft wants WOA devices to ship at
the same time as PCs designed for Windows 8 on x86, and is apparently taking
steps to clearly label the respective hardware so potential buyers can tell
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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.