Microsoft discloses some long-awaited details on how it's engineering Windows 8 weeks before a test version is released.
This ain’t your father’s Windows.
Though if you want to, you can still make that faster, sleeked-up new Windows look like the old one. Call it the morphing hybrid of operating systems — Microsoft’s bid to build a hybrid tablet/PC ecosystem.
That’s the message Windows President Steven Sinofsky relayed in a blog post Thursday that offered details on what the upcoming Windows 8 will look like on devices — mainly tablets — running on ARM technology.
Microsoft is touting Windows 8 as a radical reimagining of the company’s flagship operating system, which has, until now, run mainly on x86 processors in desktops and laptops. The beta version of Windows 8 — officially called the Consumer Preview — is scheduled for release Feb. 29.
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What’s different about Windows 8 is it’s being designed, from the ground up, to operate as well on touch-sensitive tablets running on system-on-a-chip ARM processors as it does on those more conventional x86 PCs.
At least that’s what Microsoft is promising.
But lack of concrete details has led to burning questions, such as whether there will be a way to interact with the traditional Windows desktop and components on ARM tablets, and whether legacy Windows applications will be able to run on them.
Sinofsky’s lengthy and detailed blog post answered many of those questions.
• There will be a Windows desktop and a way to interact with key Windows components on ARM-based tablets.
Out of the box, Windows on ARM (or WOA, as Sinofsky calls it) “will feel just like using Windows 8 on x86/64,” Sinofsky wrote. “You will sign in the same way. You will start and launch apps the same way. … You will have access to the intrinsic capabilities of Windows, from the new Start screen and Metro style apps and Internet Explorer, to peripherals, and if you wish, the Windows desktop with tools like Windows File Explorer and desktop Internet Explorer.”
At the same time, those who want to focus on Metro-style apps — Metro is the new tile-based design and user interface for Windows 8 — don’t need to spend time in desktop mode.
“Some have suggested we might remove the desktop from WOA in an effort to be pure, to break from the past, or to be more simplistic or expeditious in our approach,” Sinofsky wrote. “To us, giving up something useful that has little cost to customers was a compromise that we didn’t want to see in the evolution of PCs.”
• The WOA devices will include desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (code-named Office 15) and will support Windows desktop functions, including File Explorer and Internet Explorer 10.
Sinofsky’s post did not say explicitly whether Office will be offered in Metro style as well.
“If anything, I would say [Sinofsky's post] sort of clarified Office might be in just Win32 and classic desktop,” said Wes Miller, an analyst at the independent, Kirkland-based research firm Directions on Microsoft.
• All Metro-style apps in the new Windows Store (also scheduled to launch at the end of February) will support both WOA and Windows 8 on x86/64.
• Legacy Windows apps will not be supported on WOA devices. (Legacy apps, however, will still run on Windows 8 on PCs.)
For developers who would like their legacy apps to run on WOA devices, “that’s actually a serious amount of work,” rewriting and recompiling the codes, said Al Hilwa, an analyst with research firm IDC. “The consequences of that is that some apps will come [to WOA] and some won’t.”
For companies deciding whether to get a WOA tablet, “I don’t know how many are happy about the answer, or unhappy,” said Directions on Microsoft’s Miller.
“But at least they’ll have the information they need to make an informed decision.”
What’s left unanswered is when exactly the WOA devices and Windows 8 PCs will be on store shelves. Sinofsky did write, however, that the goal is for manufacturers to ship WOA devices the same time as they ship Windows 8 desktop PCs and laptops.
Also, said Miller, questions remain about price, performance and what the actual devices will be like to use.
“We have an idea now of what the software will look like. Microsoft has built it,” he said. “Now we have to see what OEMs [original equipment manufacturers — i.e. PC and tablet makers] will do with it.”
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @janettu.