Windows 8 Dominated Microsoft's Week

Microsoft's week was dominated by news of its upcoming Windows 8, including new details about Windows' expansion to ARM architecture.

Microsoft€™s week was pretty much all Windows 8, all the time.

In midweek, Microsoft sent media an invitation to a €œWindows 8 Consumer Preview€-themed event at this year€™s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The meeting is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. Feb. 29 at the Hotel Miramar, and it€™s widely expected that the company will unveil the Consumer Preview and (perhaps) make it available for download at that time.

It€™s widely expected that the release version of Windows 8 will hit the market late in 2012. In a bid to expand Windows€™ reach to tablets and more mobile form factors, Microsoft€™s engineers have subjected the operating system to some fairly radical alterations. Chief among them: a start-screen based around large, colorful tiles linked to applications. That interface conforms to the same €œMetro€ design aesthetic that now underlies many Microsoft properties, including Windows Phone and the latest Xbox dashboard. In theory, those big tiles (along with other features such as a mobile-applications storefront) will facilitate Windows 8€™s operation on tablets.

By hosting its Consumer Preview event at the Mobile World Congress, Microsoft is again re-emphasizing its aim to make Windows 8 a major player in the tablet arena. There, it will face significant competition from both Apple€™s iPad, currently the dominant device in the segment, and a burgeoning number of Google Android tablets.

Microsoft executives argue that Windows 8 on tablets will surpass its rivals by virtue of some heavy-duty functionality. €œPeople don€™t want to compromise on what they have today,€ Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told the audience at this January€™s Consumer Electronics Show. €œThey want the best of what they have, and the best of what they want.€

A day after Microsoft sent that invitation to the Barcelona event, it unleashed a whole slew of details about Windows on ARM (for which it uses the acronym €œWOA€). By making the operating system compatible with ARM chipsets, Microsoft can expand it onto the broad array of tablets that use that particular architecture. For years, Windows has only proved compatible with x86 hardware.

Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft€™s Windows and Windows Live division, used a Feb. 9 posting on the corporate Building Windows 8 blog to explain how WOA wouldn€™t compromise in terms of productivity. €œWithin the Windows desktop, WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, code-named €˜Office 15,€™€ he wrote. €œWOA will be a no-compromise product for people who want to have the full benefits of familiar Office productivity software and compatibility.€

However, he also cautioned: €œWOA 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. €œIf 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.

Microsoft has been working with a handful of ARM licensees, including Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and Nvidia; 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 them apart.

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