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Talking to Microsoft about ARM...

One of the most interesting parts of my job is the people I get to talk to. I spent the early part of the week in Amsterdam at the BlackBerry DevCon talking to developers and RIM's own developers and evangelists. I ended up with a fascinating picture of a company in transition, and just how many major changes it's having to make...

While we were there we got an email from a US PR contact offering us a phone conversation with "someone interesting" from Microsoft talking about Windows. As it was getting close to when we we'd be expecting to hear about the release of the consumer preview of Windows 8 we put two and two together and said yes. There's be a NDA, but that was fine, as an embargo gives us time to transcribe recordings and write copy.

A short while before the call we had another email telling us who we'd be talking to, and what it was about. We were right about who, but wrong about what. It was going to be a conversation with Steven Sinofsky, the man driving Windows, but it wasn't going to be about the consumer preview, at least not directly. Instead we'd be talking about a topic that had been a bone of contention among the coterie of Microsoft Watchers on Twitter: Windows On ARM.

Then came the hassle of dealing with a delayed flight out of Schipol (an A320 that took as long to load as a 747) and a taxi drive across west London to out home. We came in through the door a couple of minutes after the call was due to start and dialled in...

...and here's the news story I wrote for ZDNet UK.

On Thursday, Windows president Steven Sinofsky described in a blog post how Microsoft is developing for Windows On ARM (WOA). He outlined the changes it is making to support the processor family and its associated devices, which are new to Windows, via a common WOA foundation and Windows binaries running on platforms from ARM licensees Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

WOA is "a new member of the Windows family, built on the same kernel, sold as part of the Windows ecosystem for a new class of PCs and a new set of partners," Sinofsky told ZDNet UK in a phone interview.

Devices running WOA will be integrated products built from the ground up for Windows, with support for low-power and new hardware capabilities, including connected standby, according to Microsoft. The company did not say specifically what kinds of devices these will be, but it has strongly hinted at times that they will include tablets and perhaps hybrid keyboard-touch devices.

Sinofsky was reluctant to call the OS an ARM version of the upcoming Windows 8 update. "It’s not a number; it's just WOA," he said. "It's a member of the family — like Server, like Embedded".

Asked about the difference between Windows 8 and WOA, Sinofsky again stressed that the OS is not an offshoot, but an extension of the software maker's development process.

"What we're doing working across multiple ARM platforms is unprecedented," he said. "It's just a new capability, a new level of device, and it's giving the ability to meet the consumer demand for a device that is reliable and performant all over time."

Read the rest and comment on ZDNet.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
WOA = DOA :-)
Can you explain in words of not many syllables why this stands the slightest chance of working? If we take as our metric for the doomed and futile BeOS and WebOS (in this times) as 100 [they both seemed about as doomed to me] as 100, then it seems to me that this must rate about 110 by virtue of not really having the cool plucky-underdog factor.
Feb. 10th, 2012 03:13 pm (UTC)
Because Metro/WinRT is the future of Windows :-)

Keeping old and inefficient Win32 apps off WOA makes a lot of sense if you want, say, a tablet that keeps its battery life to more than a couple of hours. And it's not that hard to port code to WinRT from Win32, and the result is code that's a lot less crufty!
Feb. 10th, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
Depends what the code is in in the first place, surely.

If I had to expend significant effort rewriting things for a tablet then my order of preference would have to be
1= - Android - can be loaded on machines the way the God intended
1= - iOS - if I am going to have to go through an appstore and have irksome restrictions I may as well at least go for the established market

And then, um, um, errr, no, got me there, sorry. Why would I go for a company that is clearly dying to shaft me, hasn't got any market share, and is probably going to deprecate the whole thing and go off on another tangent in a year's time when it's a dismal failure?

(Actually the RIM thing is probably marginally more appealing, TBH, and depending on the market, probably some embedded Unix / Linux thing - or grit my teeth and use HTML5 and J***script)
Feb. 13th, 2012 01:02 pm (UTC)
Office. not many syllables in that. proper office applications bundled with every WOA tablet.
Full enterprise policy support.
Bazillions of Windows developers - no I know, people don't believe they'll show, but they will because Metro isn't just WOA.
A real file manager.

It's not guaranteed to succeed but comparing it to WebOS and my god, is BeOS still not dead, I thought Gasse had staked it through the heart five times already, kill it, kill it, kill it now.... ahem. WOA starts from a position of strength and exposure.

sideloading; yeah, like anyone but a geek sees that as something they *want* to do. Mass market users want something as much like a fridge or TV as possible. as long as it has the 3Gs and the wifis and the office. there's a reason The AOL was so popular and er, still makes money from dialup. The mass market is a Different Creature.
Feb. 13th, 2012 01:55 pm (UTC)
I meant BeOS and WebOS in terms of how doomed they seemed at the equivalent stage of development, not how doomed they are now.
I believe there is an open source effort to create something like BeoS :-)

It depends I suppose how the marketplace works, certainly our software (one of the millions of high-end desktop PC Win32 (MFC largely, as it happens) things floating round the world) has its own installers, can't see us wanting to go via an appstore and give Microsoft their cut or going through the aggro of having to have releases approved rather than (in extremis) doing a build for someone to get round a problem and sending it them the same day. But who know?
Feb. 13th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC)
there will be a bunch of different models for that, but is your software best suited for low-power devices with the performance of Atom? x86 isn't going away and should improve significantly with the pressure from WOA.

you know for x86 you can be in the store without giving Ms a cut? you get a link from the store to your own payments system.
Feb. 13th, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC)
No, I didn't know that.

We do have some 'mobile' software, these days it is only really sold on normal Windows non-mobile for running on ruggedised tablets, but did have WinCE and Blackberry versions at one point. Atom is probably more plausible to be honest. Most of our software is classic desktop software.
Feb. 10th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry; I should probably know this, or be able to look it up, but what is ARM in this context? I've looked, and what I've found just uses the acronym without spelling it out.
Feb. 10th, 2012 03:11 pm (UTC)
It's the name of a company that makes processors, much like Intel. Different architectures, lower power - generally used in smartphones or in tablets.

It used to be an acronym, but that has changed so many different times that it's now just the capital letters!
Feb. 10th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC)
Except that it doesn't *make* processors, it designs them and then licences the designs for others to make, or to use as components within their own designs - Apple's iProcessors use ARM cores for example.

ARM is perhaps the best example of a "fab-less" semiconductor company.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM covers it pretty well.
Feb. 10th, 2012 05:29 pm (UTC)
This :-)
Feb. 13th, 2012 12:58 pm (UTC)
which makes ARM an integration nightmare^H^H^H^Hopportunity. WOA will be the first signle binary to traget ARM stacks from different hardware integrators, so it's going to save tablet makers money.
Feb. 10th, 2012 03:14 pm (UTC)
Of course the_magician can explain more detail, as he works for them!
Feb. 10th, 2012 03:55 pm (UTC)

Orignally Acorn RISC Machine; Acorn was the company that made the BBC Micro though that used a different processor.

They're used in many PDASs, Windows CE netbooks, the vast majority of mobile phones, etc.

Edited at 2012-02-10 03:57 pm (UTC)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )