Windows 8 – A Tale of Two Platforms

In Louisiana, there is a bridge on Interstate 55 that crosses the Manchac Swamp. One of the world’s longest bridges, it’s over 22 miles long.

I mention that because I think it’s important that you be visualizing a very long bridge, because that is, in so many ways what Microsoft is building with Windows 8. Win8 on the legacy (x86/x64) architectures and Win8 on ARM are in many ways two different platforms, and WinRT is the (very long) bridge that Microsoft is trying to build between them to help Windows on ARM succeed.

When discussing the potential of Windows 8, especially the opportunity for developers, Microsoft touts numbers such as “450 million” or “500 million” as a potential market for Windows 8. But is the immediate potential really that large?

A key strength that has repeatedly sold Windows upgrades for more than two decades is application compatibility. That is the premise that last year’s (or last decade’s) applications will still run on next year’s version of Windows.

This has traditionally been especially important when discussing complex, custom-built line-of-busines applications. Enterprises expect to keep running the same applications with as little (as close to no) modification as possible on a new version of Windows. It is important to not dismiss application compatibility, because no version of Windows that didn’t have flawless application compatibility has ever been commercially successful, as I’ve said a couple of times before. The Intel Itanium architecture took a while to deliver the performance value proposition that was initially promised, and – very importantly – had a very, very bad Windows application compatibility story for existing applications throughout it’s entire life. Conversely, the AMD/Intel x64 architecture delivered exceptional performance relatively early on, at a marginal cost premium over x86, with almost no application compatibility cost. True, drivers were an issue, and led to Windows XP x64 having very little uptake, but Windows Vista largely resolved this, and Windows 7 all but removed any hurdles of running x64 Windows. Today you can buy an x64 system and, unless it has esoteric (or crappy) piece of hardware or software, ancient 16-bit applications, or VB 6 applications, you don’t pay a price to run Windows natively on x64 hardware.

Let’s look at a couple of facts about x86 PCs running 32-bit Windows 7:

  1. You can run almost any legacy application, going back over 20 years.
  2. You can use ancient hardware peripherals, as long as you have a relatively current driver.
  3. You can use ancient utility or security software, as long as you have a relatively current driver.
  4. The majority (almost all) applications available to you today are not optimized for touch, or even for stylus-based input.
  5. The majority (almost all) are either a desktop PC or a laptop. Very few are tablets.
  6. The processors in the system are designed with an emphasis of performance over efficiency.
  7. The applications (especially legacy applications) on the system give very little consideration to power management, efficiency, or not running unnecessary, inefficient, or repetitive/looping background tasks.

In addition, the odds are that if you looked at almost any PC in use today, it also doesn’t have a digitizer – which means it doesn’t support touch or a stylus. Some do, it’s true. But the cost has left these devices to be an edge of the market, far from mainstream.

If you imagine the same x86 PC upgraded Windows 8, every single fact above remains true, though the new world of Metro applications begins to help by providing a touch-first, well-managed, power-sensitive application framework (but does so on a PC without touch in most cases).

Microsoft’s take is that every x86 PC that can run Windows 7 is an upgrade candidate to Windows 8. That’s absolutely true.

But let’s look at what would happen if you were to buy a brand new Windows 8 device with an ARM processor. How many of these facts still hold true?

  1. You can’t run any legacy applications. None. You might be able to modify them to run on ARM if Microsoft provides some level of tooling and libraries they depend upon are available, but as of right now, that doesn’t appear to be something Microsoft wants you to do. Visual Basic 6 applications, in particular, are forbidden under the terms of Windows 8 application certification.
  2. You can’t use any hardware peripherals, unless a new driver (with driver signing) has been created (same problem originally faced by x64).
  3. You can’t use any utility or security software, unless a new driver (with driver signing) has been created (same problem originally faced by x64).
  4. All applications (unless Microsoft renegs and provides a Win32 application migration story) are Metro apps, provided through the Windows App Store. These are inherently optimized for touch, but work with pen. These can be frustrating to use with a mouse.
  5. The majority are likely to be tablets, very few are likely to be desktop PCs or even conventional laptops or “Ultrabooks” until Windows on ARM has proven it’s viability.
  6. The processors in the system are designed with an emphasis of efficiency over performance.
  7. The applications must conform to the WinRT framework, and as a result are very constrained as to what they can do in the background (for better or worse), but are generally efficient, secure, and tightly managed.

Before I go any further, I’d like you to try 2 levels of Cut the Rope in Internet Explorer, or 2 levels of Angry Birds in Google Chrome; but I want you to do me a favor. If you have a stylus or a touch-enabled system, don’t use those. Use a mouse. Don’t cheat – just use the mouse, like most current PC users would have to. Ready? Go on, I’ll wait.

You’re back? Great. Now, if you’ve ever played Angry Birds or Cut the Rope on iOS or Android, I want you to think for a moment about the experience you just had.

Was it fun? Sure.
Was it novel? Meh – you’ve probably played these both on other platforms. That’s why Microsoft and Google paid to have them ported to the browser – it’s important that well-known titles like these be on their respective platforms to begin with.
Was it the best experience you’ve ever had with these games? Probably not. Besides some performance compromises to go from native compiled code to HTML/JS, both of these games compromise the gameplay because you need to use a mouse, not the more intuitive touch user interface that both apps succeeded because of.

Now, you might be saying, “But Windows 8 will be touch-based! People will have tablets!”

That is the plan – and this version of Cut The Rope will probably be a great experience on a touch-enabled Windows 8 tablet, regardless of CPU architecture. But reconsider that 450M-500M number mentioned earlier. Almost every x86 PC in existence included in that number does not have touch.

Any Windows 8 PC can run the Metro user interface. Absolutely. But I can tell you from my personal experience that Metro and the new Start page are very frustrating to use with a mouse instead of touch. Frankly, they’re rather difficult to use. Personally I’ve been contemplating whether Kinect for Windows could help here – it may. That aside, while consumers and enterprises may upgrade to Windows 8 in time, I have to think that there may be some initial hesitance to upgrade, especially on those exact “legacy” systems touted because the user interface is such a fundamental shift – even if existing Win32 applications “just work” on Windows 8 x86 systems as they did on Windows 7.

I worked on Windows XP. I saw enterprise customers become emotional – become angry about the new Start Menu in Windows XP. It had to have an option to disable it and turn theming off. People have become used to it, but the shift to the Start page and Metro are far more jarring than a new Start Menu or Windows theming were.

Now you might be thinking, “Well, fine. Consumers will buy new tablets, largely with ARM, but possibly with x86, processors, optimized for touch.”

But then we have the opposite problem. Early on in this post, I highlighted how significant of a role Windows legacy application compatibility plays in businesses deciding to upgrade to a new version of Windows. Windows 8 on x86 and x64 continue to offer this value proposition, thus indeed resulting in a potential for Windows 8 uptake on many existing systems (that don’t support touch). But honestly, x86-based tablets are a longshot to remove the iPad’s lead, due to the iPad’s name recognition, performance, value prop, battery life, weight, and low cost. Windows 8 on ARM, conversely, throws away the entire “legacy application” value proposition, but begins to counter the iPad (the key details then being the build quality, performance, weight, battery life, and cost of Windows 8 ARM-based tablets – all of which are completely unknown at this time).

Let me summarize:

  1. Legacy PCs running Windows 8 will run legacy applications, but deliver a suboptimal experience when running touch-centric Metro/WinRT-based applications.
  2. New x86 tablets running Windows 8 will run legacy applications, will deliver the optimal experience when running Metro/WinRT-based applications, but may compromise battery life and/or weight and/or cost over an ARM tablet. This isn’t a guarantee, but at this point, this is the way product offerings have panned out in the past.
  3. New ARM tablets running Windows 8 will not run any legacy applications, but will deliver the optimal experience when running Metro/WinRT-based applications, and will quite likely deliver the best weight/efficiency/cost.

I’ve said before that Windows 8 will live two lives. It’s critical to understand this. Desktops/laptops running Win32 and some WinRT applications, and tablets, running mostly or all WinRT applications.

I’m not saying the quoted 450M/500M number is completely incorrect. I’m also not saying that Windows 8 won’t succeed. I hope it does.

I am saying that I believe it may be a false syllogism to link the current market entrenchment of Windows 7 and earlier on x86/x64 desktops and laptops running Win32 applications, to any guaranteed explosion of sales for Win8 tablets which require an entirely new generation of WinRT-based applications.

The notion that “Lots of people run Windows today, therefore Windows 8 will succeed on ARM tablets and outsell the iPad” or “Lots of people run Windows today, therefore Metro application authors are guaranteed to make money” are both false syllogisms to just assume at this point.The current – gigantic – installed base of Windows x86/x64 systems running Win32 applications does not, by definition, mean that you can assume an immediate, or definite, success for Windows 8 on ARM running WinRT applications. The iPad is young, and it’s anybody’s game.

People do own PCs, and many are likely to continue to buy Windows 8 PCs or Ultrabooks. However without touch, they are, I personally believe, not the best candidates to run Metro. Conversely, consumers can buy Win8 Metro/touch-focused tablets when available, but then will abandon legacy Win32 apps.

We’ve yet to see what the stimuli are that lead consumers to prefer a Windows 8 tablet over an iPad (Apps? Form factors? Performance?). Microsoft may well have some secret sauce here that we’re not yet privy to, but as of this point, they are running silent and running deep, and not discussing Windows 8 go-to-market strategy at all.

Correction/clarification (1/18/2012, 11:00 AM) I have had several readers and followers on Twitter note that the 400M+ number specifically speaks to the current run rate of PCs continuing to sell as it has – not the installed base at all. Stupid on my part to incorrectly state that. However that actually only accentuates the issue above, as that run rate needs to continue or grow, while also including iPad competitive ARM and low-powered x86 tablets in the sales mix.

  • guest

    Maybe Office 360?

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  • Avatar Roku

    The Windows Store changes everything. That store will be installed on the start page of 400M+ computers in the first year alone and it will promote both Win32 and WinRT applications. That level of exposure for a developer is unprecedented in history.

    Computers are going to ship with touch screens after Windows 8. A computer without a touch screen is already outdated, after Windows 8 and the Windows Store launches very few people are going to choose to buy a computer with an old fashioned screen.

    Almost every electronic device in my room with a display is touch screen enabled (mp3 players, tablets, cellphones, GPS, portable game consoles). The only two that aren’t touch screen are the laptop and the TV. The TV has touch controls to power it on and an Xbox Kinect attached which simulates a touch screen effect. The only reason why the laptop doesn’t have a touch screen is because the current Windows UI is something left over from the 1990’s. Windows 8 changes that and makes the laptop just the latest device to finally go touch-first.

  • http://twitter.com/interlogus Alex B

    I remember discussions regarding film vs digital in photography, years ago. Lots of people were saying that film was much better and digital is just a toy… Where are those film-oriented companies now that haven’t switch their vision? Where’s the Kodak? It’s obvious for me that Windows 8 and it’s metro interface a must have for Microsoft future. And the success of Windows 8 depends only on quality and usability of new Windows 8 interfaces. It will be difficult to accomplish but it’s unavoidable.

  • guest

    Windows 7 has sold 400+ million copies in the past 2 years.  Most of those are on *new* PCs, not existing ones.  Once Windows 8 comes out, those new PCs will all have touch screens.  You won’t buy a Windows 8 ultrabook with a non-touch screen.  If Windows 8 just continues to sell in the same numbers as Windows 7, there will be hundreds of millions of touch-capable Windows PCs available in a year.

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  • Erict

    So?  If backward compatibility is important, stick to Intel with Touch.  I have a touch-screen tablet from Dell with an Intel Atom chip (with a built-in keyboard and mouse).  I love Windows 8, with full touch — and I can run any old program.

  • http://twitter.com/halberenson Hal Berenson

    Good analysis overall, though I see two flaws.  The first is the opinion you inserted on using Windows 8 with just a mouse.  I happen to like the expereince, and the one we see in beta (and at RTM) will likely be significantly better than the one in the Developer Preview.  I know others who also like the experience (and many who don’t of course).  Basically I think it is still way to early to pass judgement on how users react, and that could alter your conclusion considerably.  At least as applied to consumers.

    The second is more generally the point about the half-million PCs out there.  I don’t think Microsoft is trying to claim that all 500 million will upgrade rapidly, and of course businesses will be very slow to upgrade (see http://hal2020.com/2011/12/31/will-enterprises-aka-business-buy-windows-8/).  But even 10% upgrading would equate to estimated 2012 iPad sales.  Then if you take the ~300 million per year sales rate of PCs and assume that most PCs sold at retail (which is a good proxy for consumers whereas enterprises don’t generally buy retail) by the end of 2013 have Windows 8 on them you have tens of millions (if not 100 million) more very quickly.  In other words, even fairly conservative assumptions give Metro app authors a decent sized market very quickly.  That doesn’t even address the tablet market.  And if Microsoft can generate a large library of Metro apps very quickly than a (potentially) Metro-only device like an ARM Tablet becomes far more interesting and has actual potential to succeed.

    Hal
    http://hal2020.com

  • rojo

    Good thoughts here. I think it is good they are quiet about some things. But I think it is really bad to not say anything about ARM so businesses can prepare and the rest of us can start planning our technology purchases. 

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    Expect Win32 to be strongly de-emphasized. WinRT uptake is critical to the success of Windows on ARM, which is in turn critical to providing a strong counterpoint to the iPad. You are correct that most devices offered will likely have touch or capable multitouch trackpads (not quite as functional, but will suffice for some scenarios).
    Thanks for the comment.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    Expect Win32 to be strongly de-emphasized. WinRT uptake is critical to the success of Windows on ARM, which is in turn critical to providing a strong counterpoint to the iPad. You are correct that most devices offered will likely have touch or capable multitouch trackpads (not quite as functional, but will suffice for some scenarios).
    Thanks for the comment.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    You are likely correct – but these tablets must not try to be iPad clones – they need to be significantly more.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    Hopefully we’ll hear more in February or by summer, even if the systems aren’t available until late this year.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    If the value proposition of these systems is “much more than an iPad”, I agree. However, I don’t expect any systems that are simply iPad clones to do exceptionally well, even at competitive prices – price of course is also key.

    Your thoughts and a few thoughts on Twitter echoed the sentiment about the mouse vs. keyboard. I think it’s a matter of personal taste – but I’ve found several multitouch operations on the iPad that are quite intuitive and hard to replicate with a mouse. For example, flowcharting apps on the iPad are much easier to use with multitouch, in my opinion, than using a mouse on Windows. Conversely, there are some operations that are more intuitive or comfortable with a mouse instead of multitouch.

    As I noted on Twitter as well, there are several levels of Cut the Rope (and a follow-on game, Contre Jour), which require two fingers to complete – not sure how you can do that solely with a mouse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tec.goblin Tec Goblin

    “But I can tell you from my personal experience that Metro and the new Start page are very frustrating to use with a mouse instead of touch
    ” If you are using the mouse instead of the keyboard to navigate the new Start page, you are doing something wrong. You just TYPE as you were doing in the start menu since Vista…

  • Kartiksehgal

    I don’t think hardware is really a restriction. Even hardware keeps getting upgraded and new hardware supports newer standards. Enterprises might be slow in adoption, but consumers may not. And as someone rightly pointed out earlier in the comments, most consumers go with new machines when the upgrade to the new version of windows. Thats because their hardware upgrade cycle also coincides with OS updates. Enterprises, I repeat, may still be slow in adoption.

  • http://twitter.com/danny77uk danny77uk

    While I think it’s great that MS are willing to take risks with Metro and ARM and I think that this could lead to the failure of the Windows brand and ecosystem if not done just right. I think Metro is ok, which is just as well because it was installed on my XBox when it updated (I had no choice in the matter). Not great, but ok.

    The number 1 reason for Window’s entrenchment is the Win32 API and backwards compatibility. This is what continues to sell Dell PCs and bulk Windows licenses in the enterprise. It is what continues to sell MSDN subscriptions and Microsoft technology certifications. This is why users get annoyed when MS changes the design of new versions – they just want to get work done. 

    This is my experience as a long time Windows dev in the enterprise and other shops.

    MS knows this and tried to introduce a phased transition to a newer platform with .Net and (later) Silverlight. And let’s face it, that effort hasn’t been very successful (it was a poorly promoted, poorly implemented mess).

    Most tech-savvy Windows users would rather NOT use Windows. They are forced to use it because of legacy software or processes. They are sick of constant updates, security hassles, activation issues, performance problems and the high total cost of ownership. This is particularly true of developers who want standards-compliant tools (C++0X etc) and resent being locked into MS’s stack.

    If MS decides to abandon native Win32, it will cut away the monopolies biggest support and will, long term, provide a real incentive for companies and end users to consider moving to other platforms.

  • Andriy Deren’

    They can be cheaper and more approachable than iPad – and take success

  • http://www.facebook.com/ah.hatem ???? ????

    The point is that I personally don’t want to use a laptop with touch screen even if optimized… it is a lot easier to use the mouse which requires substantially less hands moving… … so I prefer the traditional desktop… that means that all winRT stuff are useless to me … I want to use a keyboard/mouse oriented interface because on a pc/laptop it is a lot more effective… which means winRT interface is not doing me any good .. and only forcing microsoft to do a combination of virtualization and magic to get to a new small and effective kernel and clean its subsystems and keep backward compatibility…. that means that win7 could end up being a better experience for me and all enterprise customers… 
    On another hand, a lot of people I know want to move to a tablet…  and stop using a PC because they mostly don’t need it… a mobile device is a lot better experience… which means that they might not buy a next pc with or without windows…. it looks to me like we are heading to an era where every member of the family have a tablet and only one pc at home for more serious stuff that are hard to do on a tablet…  that means that probably pc sales will drop significantly in the next couple of years….

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  • guest

    Enterprise
    legacy systems are not what drive the economic engine. It is the small and
    medium size businesses that are the life blood of our economy. As a small
    business technology consultant I can tell you that all of the customers I work
    with have moved to Windows 7 x64 with Windows 2008 R2 x64 platforms. I have
    several Broker Dealers that are stuck using IE 8 because of the enterprise
    business they deal with, but it hasn’t prevented them from migrating to Win7 +
    Win2K8. Of the 20+ businesses in this category that I work with only one is
    still on XP but they already have a budget to migrate to Windows 8!

    What has
    driven these small businesses to move to the newer platform? I have asked most
    all of them this question and the answer is consistent; “We are using
    Windows 7 at home and we love it. So using at the office makes sense.”

    Maybe I
    am in a unique situation because I live in Seattle, the back yard of Microsoft.
    However I am included to believe that this is a trend that a lot of my peers
    are experiencing all around the country.

  • Mtiede

    I read in the comments people talking about how Windows desktops don’t have touch.  MINE does.  HP TouchSmart.  Works quite well.  Even with non-touch enabled apps.  Works better with touch enabled apps like Silverlight apps.

    Just wanted to add to the record that Windows desktops already can do touch.  Not all do, but it isn’t like it can’t be done.

  • Pedro Cardoso

    I Think the author should account that at desktop level the Monitor and the touch option is separate from the Computer itself… u can upgrade the monitor when you want…but also the touch adoption on regular desktops will not be that aceptable beacause is inconvenient, i want the screen with the best resolution i can get the large posible and far away from me so that is no on top of my eyes and makes me move my head to see…

    on laptop, can you imagine being on the sofa or at a desk with a laptop and touching the screen on a regular basis, i can its very anoying to get my hand up to the screen… All this table experience is more of a mobile on the run experience and not to use for your hours, unless they dock and when they do they will be used as a laptop or desktop and most of the time the touch will be left aside…

  • Pedro Cardoso

    I Think the author should account that at desktop level the Monitor and the touch option is separate from the Computer itself… u can upgrade the monitor when you want…but also the touch adoption on regular desktops will not be that aceptable beacause is inconvenient, i want the screen with the best resolution i can get the large posible and far away from me so that is no on top of my eyes and makes me move my head to see…

    on laptop, can you imagine being on the sofa or at a desk with a laptop and touching the screen on a regular basis, i can its very anoying to get my hand up to the screen… All this table experience is more of a mobile on the run experience and not to use for your hours, unless they dock and when they do they will be used as a laptop or desktop and most of the time the touch will be left aside…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Green/100003157325985 Tim Green

    The touchpad is the interface of the future, with keyboards and displays being optional appliances.  Think of a 1″ thick tablet, and you have a touchpad.  All the joys of a touch interface and small size.  All the power of an advanced laptop.

    I don’t know why none of the big laptop companies aren’t smart enough to figure this out.  I tried contacting HP about it, and they blew me off – of course.l

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Green/100003157325985 Tim Green

    The touchpad is the interface of the future, with keyboards and displays being optional appliances.  Think of a 1″ thick tablet, and you have a touchpad.  All the joys of a touch interface and small size.  All the power of an advanced laptop.

    I don’t know why none of the big laptop companies aren’t smart enough to figure this out.  I tried contacting HP about it, and they blew me off – of course.l

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    “Cheaper” with Android and other tablets has traditionally meant smaller screen sizes or questionable build quality. Not sure how Windows OEMs will be able to play that card differently.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    This makes me recall Microsoft’s abandoned Mira project. 
    http://www.theyshoulddothat.com/2006/08/ey_do_you_guys_remember_micros.html 

    1″ is far too thick, though – you need thin and light. My Motion Computing tablet (M1200), 9 years ago, was a great Tablet PC. Just pen, not touch, and far too expensive ($2000+) for the value prop it delivered. The next few years will see some amazing evolution in computing devices.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    Maybe I’m just a disbeliever, but I believe that “the PC by the TV” isn’t a typical scenario – but you’re right, touch falls apart completely there.

    Putting an overlay on an existing monitor is indeed possible. But doing so costs hundreds of dollars for a decent monitor. You have to really want a touch-enabled legacy PC. I’m also not a big fan of “direct touch” on a desktop PC, as I believe it induces new potential repetitive stress injuries. I think on a desktop, Kinect for Windows or a multitouch touchpad (Logitech’s or Apple’s), or touch mouse (Microsoft’s or Apple’s) are more usable for “touch”, since they support multiple touch inputs.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    It’s a generalization, but a safe generalization, that most Windows desktops today do not support touch. HP has touch-enabled this on far and away more systems than any other OEM, but it is still just a tiny edge of the market.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    I believe tablets are especially appealing to consumers who use their PCs primarily for Web browsing or email. 

    Re: kernel changes, the kernel of Windows hasn’t changed for Windows 8 to that dramatic of a scale, fundamentally it’s still Win32, with WinRT on top. Streamlined, yes. Rearchitected, no. Perhaps in the future if WinRT establishes a strong beachhead, then Microsoft can look at pulling Win32 out of the mix in a future version.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    Win32 is being de-emphasized, not much question about that. The entire Build conference was ”
    WinRT,
    WinRT,
    WinRT”. For developers, Win32 in Windows 8 appears to be the status quo. Time will tell what the results are.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    If the solution to navigating a graphical user interface is “use the keyboard”, remind me again why we ever bothered with mice or touchscreens? That’s a broken user interface, if that’s the intended design.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    There are significant questions in my mind about consumer uptake as well. Android tablets have done horribly in the market. When compared, Windows 8 offers a more consistent experience, better developer tools, and a secure, broadly available app store – all great reasons to buy a Windows tablet over an Android tablet. The question then comes down to cost and the devices themselves. Consumers need to feel that Windows 8 delivers even more value than an iPad, or consumers may well be prone to buy an iPad instead. Unfortunately, by emulating the iPad experience, Microsoft is sort of forcing this conversation. 

    When Windows 8 tablets ship, go to your local electronics store, and listen for this conversation (you’ll hear it), “So how does this tablet compare to an iPad?”

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    You stated that that small business has the budget to move from Windows XP to Windows 8. I’m curious why they decided to wait for 8 and not deploy 7, when they’ve stuck with Windows XP for so long (indicating a business that likely couldn’t justify the cost/benefit analysis of moving from XP to Vista or 7 before).

    I also wouldn’t compare server migrations to client migrations. I’m seeing very little hesitance in businesses to move to new versions of Windows Server, even repeatedly. The business value delivered in the server has been pointedly clear for almost every server release since 2003. The business value in Vista was highly questionable, and 7 was better, though not as pointedly clear as the server products.

  • Fan Decheng

    I guess the answer to run both legacy applications and using a tablet is use Intel Atom CPUs instead of ARM CPUs. Something found on the web shows this: http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/31/msi-windpad-is-a-10-inch-intel-powered-windows-7-tablet/

  • http://twitter.com/danny77uk danny77uk

    “Win32 is being de-emphasized”

    MS has been ‘de-emphasizing’ Win32 since .Net 1.0, if not longer. That doesn’t change the fact that the VAST majority of Windows applications are written in C++ to use that API. And .Net doesn’t provide a 100% alternative to those APIs.

    This is typical MS. Introduce a new propriety tech, promote the heck out of it, and then let it wither and die. Meanwhile developers have to write software and we do it in C++ using cross-platform standards if possible.

    Windows HAS to be able to run Win32 applications. It just has to. If it doesn’t, it will be cheaper (and easier) for users to switch away.

    If they’re smart, they’ll introduce a Win32 virtualization layer.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    Tablets with low-powered x86 processors have historically either compromised battery power, performance, weight, thickness or price. I’m not aware of a low-powered x86 slate that has delivered on all 5 of those metrics simultaneously, which is really required if you want to counter the iPad.

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    Very good points, and ironically with Windows 8, .NET itself is being de-emphasized as well. If a developer chose not to write for .NET because it didn’t offer the full functionality of Win32, well, that developer is going to be even more brokenhearted about WinRT.

    Both x86/x64 and ARM-based systems will be able to run Win32 executable code, but it has to be compiled to each platform. All indications seem to say that Win32 code ported as-is to ARM is, well, suboptimal. Most Win32 applications (say, like Outlook) were written with the understanding that there was basically an infinite amount of CPU time to burn to perform tasks that would make an embedded systems developer cry. Thus, even if you can, and do, bring old Win32 applications over to ARM, what they will do. Will all the dependencies you need be available (old versions of .NET/JVMs? Not likely, VB 6? Nope.), will you be able to run the application and get the same performance as you would on x86? Also not likely. Can you leave that application running in the background and not expect it to torch battery life? Nope. 

    Bringing Win32 code over to ARM, if possible, will require developers to perform significant re-engineering, or result in broken hearts and disappointment, with both how the application itself behaves, and what it does to the ARM system that may have seemed so happy while solely running WinRT-based applications.

  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmS1H0GlNDiHCXlUQxKLF8-_OhSQfgcNpg Orktane

    Nice analysis. You are right the value proposition of Metro-ARM combo doesn’t seem to be (as of now) either valuable enough on its own (given the lack of backward compatibility) or when compared to iPad’s large and existing ecosystem. However, a possible way out of this chicken-and-egg sort-of-a-problem, might be if Metro style / WRT apps possibly or optionally came with two UIs (using MVVM) – one to run in the touch-first context, and one to run in the desktop context. This is akin to how some iOS apps can run on iPhone and iPad – and the benefit being, one, it truly makes the Microsoft Marketplace relevant to the desktop experience, two, gets away from sub-optimal experiences on desktops for Metro-style apps, and three, it incentivises buying a touch device in addition to regular desktops that most people would/will have.

    Also there are other things that Microsoft could do to add value to ARM-devices, like enable “pure” .NET based apps to run on them – given it’s a managed platform. This would at least make a ton of existing business applications from the last 10 years relevant to the ARM version. Though, this might be easier said than done without the presence of the Win32 empire, but at least the .NET’s client-profile could be availed.

    Anyway, I doubt Microsoft has its strategy sorted out – beyond the incompetence at the top, they seem to lost between the consumerisation of IT and making sure they don’t cannibalize the two legs they stand on (Windows and Office).

  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmS1H0GlNDiHCXlUQxKLF8-_OhSQfgcNpg Orktane

    Nice analysis. You are right the value proposition of Metro-ARM combo doesn’t seem to be (as of now) either valuable enough on its own (given the lack of backward compatibility) or when compared to iPad’s large and existing ecosystem. However, a possible way out of this chicken-and-egg sort-of-a-problem, might be if Metro style / WRT apps possibly or optionally came with two UIs (using MVVM) – one to run in the touch-first context, and one to run in the desktop context. This is akin to how some iOS apps can run on iPhone and iPad – and the benefit being, one, it truly makes the Microsoft Marketplace relevant to the desktop experience, two, gets away from sub-optimal experiences on desktops for Metro-style apps, and three, it incentivises buying a touch device in addition to regular desktops that most people would/will have.  

    Also there are other things that Microsoft could do to add value to ARM-devices, like enable “pure” .NET based apps to run on them – given it’s a managed platform. This would at least make a ton of existing business applications from the last 10 years relevant to the ARM version. Though, this might be easier said than done without the presence of the Win32 empire, but at least the .NET’s client-profile could be availed. 

    Anyway, I doubt Microsoft has its strategy sorted out – beyond the incompetence at the top, they seem to lost between the consumerisation of IT and making sure they don’t cannibalize the two legs they stand on (Windows and Office). 

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    I have seen a couple of decent suggestions from the community about how full-screen WinRT apps could play well in the desktop. But it appears that Microsoft is “all-in” on touch first, and is willing to gamble that the desktop will hold its own or learn to adapt to WinRT apps running on the desktop. We’ll see.

    Unfortunately, there would be a lot of work required to make apps designed in the traditional mindset of .NET run on ARM. Those apps (unless hand-crafted) are still quite thick and show little disregard either for a unified design paradigm, touch, or respect for limited processing/power capability. Could be done, but honestly WinRT itself is so much work to get done before Windows 8 ships this year.

  • http://twitter.com/Seb_LC Sebastien Le Calvez

    It’s an awesome post but I kind of disagree and although I didn’t do such an extensive post, here are my 2 cents. I hope you take a look at it and let me know your thoughts. http://seblc.me/2012/01/24/windows-store/

  • http://twitter.com/Seb_LC Sebastien Le Calvez

    Correct, here are my 2 cents: http://seblc.me/2012/01/24/windows-store/

  • http://twitter.com/getwired Wes Miller

    Thanks for taking the time to read it, and to comment, Sebasien.
    I’m not sure I agree with Gartner’s sentiment:
    “Gartner recently stated that they expect 404 million PCs to be shipped in 2012 but that’s without even counting ARM devices entering the scene. So even if in 2012 the market isn’t inundated by Windows 8 slates and tablets, you will see a plethora Windows 8 desktops and laptops and each one of those will have a prominent Windows Store Live Tile where users will get their apps from. What’s even better is that by the time Windows 8 ARM slates become mainstream, the Windows Store will be carrying a ton of your favorite apps and some.”

    I’m not sure that I agree with their thesis that Win8 ARM devices will be additive on top of Win8 x86/x64 devices. While Win8 ARM tablets may be able to take marketshare that would have gone to the iPad, I believe that a fair percentage of Win8 ARM tablets will be sold at the expense of their x86 tablet counterparts and, especially if the prices are higher than $600, both will take potential sales from x86 desktops – meaning the top-end number won’t go up at all. 

    It’s all supposition at this point – we don’t know details on devices, viability, or pricing. I do believe, however, if Win8 on ARM hits the market after Win8 on x86, it won’t be a good thing. They need to both be there on day 1 which is, I believe, Microsoft’s objective.