Microsoft details Windows on ARM in new blog post

Windows head honcho Steven Sinofsky has posted a whopper of a blog post about Windows on ARM. The 8,600-word piece starts off with a few key tidbits—including the fact that, despite certain rumors, Windows on ARM will feature the old-school Desktop—before descending into lower-level talk about the challenges of porting Windows to a new CPU architecture, from the kernel to the Start screen.

Honestly, my eyes glazed over during the second part. The first part was interesting, though, and not just because of the neat demo video:

For starters, Sinofsky describes Windows on ARM not as a flavor of Windows 8, but as a "new member of the Windows family" entirely distinct from Windows 8. While the two operating systems will have the same look and feel and much of the same code, Sinofsky compares Windows on ARM to Windows Phone or Windows Embedded. He also reveals that Windows on ARM won’t be distributed separately from pre-built systems:

Partners will provide WOA PCs as integrated, end-to-end products that include hardware, firmware, and Windows on ARM software. Windows on ARM software will not be sold or distributed independent of a new WOA PC, just as you would expect from a consumer electronics device that relies on unique and integrated pairings of hardware and software. Over the useful lifetime of the PC, the provided software will be serviced and improved.

It’s no surprise, then, that the upcoming Windows 8 Consumer Preview will be x86/x64-only.

In spite of those differences, Sinofsky stresses that Windows on ARM "will feel just like using Windows 8 on x86/64." As a bonus, he says the operating system "includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote." The wording of the post suggests those are standard, pre-installed apps. If that’s the case, it might give Windows 8 tablets a big leg up over the competition—at least for folks who plan to use Win8 tablets for real work.

In any case, we’ll see the fruits of Microsoft’s labor first-hand before too long. The company is working with hardware vendors to release the first Windows on ARM devices at the same time as the first Windows 8 PCs.

Comments closed
    • TEAMSWITCHER
    • 8 years ago

    I tried watching the video, but the dude’s monotone presentation nearly put me to sleep. They really need to find more energetic people to show this stuff off. That said, the new Metro interface is not a step in the right direction. Having to jump from screen to screen to do simple tasks is a bad design. Why is WP7 sucking wind right now? Because people get lost in all the ridiculous screens. Only Microsoft fanboys like the UI, and they are simply not being honest with themselves.

    It’s kinda sad, we are made to witness the once powerful and mighty Microsoft, ship the world’s gayest OS with a Playskool UI and mono-chomatic icons called “charms.”

    • pogsnet
    • 8 years ago
    • mcnabney
    • 8 years ago

    They really shouldn’t have called the new OS Windows 8. That implies compatibility with, you know, Windows.

    They should have instead called it Bob 2012.

    • demani
    • 8 years ago

    Real work is done outside of MS Office all the time.

      • Sargent Duck
      • 8 years ago

      Please, enlighten us.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 8 years ago

        Erm, I made a spreadsheet in Google Docs once.

          • sweatshopking
          • 8 years ago

          i lol’d

    • ew
    • 8 years ago

    So when I run Windows on ARM I have to to give Microsoft complete control over my hardware and firmware. I understand they can get away with this because every other ARM platform does the same thing but how is this better then x86 Windows?

    • Frith
    • 8 years ago

    At first this looked like very good news, but with further reading it became apparent that the desktop will be worthless on ARM computers. The key news is this:

    [quote<]Metro style apps in the Windows Store can support both WOA and Windows 8 on x86/64. Developers wishing to target WOA do so by writing applications for the WinRT (Windows APIs for building Metro style apps) using the new Visual Studio 11 tools in a variety of languages, including C#/VB/XAML and Jscript/ HTML5. Native code targeting WinRT is also supported using C and C++, which can be targeted across architectures and distributed through the Windows Store. WOA does not support running, emulating, or porting existing x86/64 desktop apps.[/quote<] In other words you're not going to be able to recompile Win32, MFC or .net applications to run on ARM. Third party developers will therefore not be able to write desktop applications for ARM, only (useless) Metro style apps. Office is still written in the Win32 API, and the fact that it's running on ARM shows that the tools for recompiling Win32 applications for ARM must exist, but Microsoft must have decided not to release them to developers. It seems that Microsoft want third parties making only Metro style applications. Their motivation for this is obvious - Metro apps will only be sold through the Windows Store where Microsoft will take a chunk of the money from every sale. In the interests of making money Microsoft have rendered Windows on ARM completely worthless. I suspect their pursuit of short term profit will cost them in the long term.

      • EsotericLord
      • 8 years ago

      “Completely worthless”

      :/

      • TREE
      • 8 years ago

      If you are right, then that is very bad news, but I do think it is somewhat early on to be speculating about how Microsoft ported over Office. I think it’s more probable that they just swapped typical Win32 API function calls for newer Metro API ones and recompiled the code with VS2011.

      Quick question: have you got a source for your information about the API used to code Office?

      • dmjifn
      • 8 years ago

      “Win32 and COM for Metro style apps”

      [url<]http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/br205757.aspx[/url<] "Metro style apps can use a subset of the Win32 and COM API. This subset of APIs was chosen to support key scenarios for Metro style apps that were not already covered by the Windows Runtime, HTML/CSS, or other supported languages or standards. The Windows App Certification Kit ensures that your app uses only this subset of the Win32 and COM API."

      • designerfx
      • 8 years ago

      I’ve seen similar comments on anandtech – basically they took all value out of windows for ARM by doing exactly as you have indicated..

      • ImSpartacus
      • 8 years ago

      There are more advantages to an app store than just an easy percentage of each sale.

      Most of them are for the morons that make up most of the computing population. You can’t expect MS to not cater to its most populous demographic. Like it or not, but the morons bring us down.

      I could make a superficially large list, but it all comes down to malware and updates. MS gets a shot to cull almost all of the malware from making it onto an ARM machine and they guarantee that even your grandmother’s machine will get all the security updates it needs for first and third party apps.

        • willmore
        • 8 years ago

        You’d have a point if there were a way for advanced users to sideload applications. But, since this is a fully walled garden, you are missing the big picture.

      • pogsnet
      • 8 years ago
    • NeelyCam
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]"includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote." The wording of the post suggests those are standard, pre-installed apps.[/quote<] EU won't be happy with this bundling proposal... didn't MS learn their lesson the first time?

      • windwalker
      • 8 years ago

      It’s totally different this time as Microsoft doesn’t have a monopoly in the tablet market.
      They can bundle whatever they want.

        • indeego
        • 8 years ago

        This isn’t how the EU works.

        [quote<]"The Commission must do its part.....It must not rely on one vendor, it must not accept closed standards, and it must refuse to become locked into a particular technology – jeopardizing maintenance of full control over the information in its possession"[/quote<] -European Commissioner for Competition It could take a singular complaint from an Apple/Google/ OR Microsoft (now that Nokia and they are so close) to bring fiery pain upon a tech company.

          • Sahrin
          • 8 years ago

          You’re right, but I think that Microsoft would be able to successfully argue that there are more pressing concerns than the nascent tablet market, in which Microsoft holds a zero percent share.

      • Hattig
      • 8 years ago

      I agree, especially since desktop apps from other software houses will have to be rewritten to use the new Windows Metro APIs, and Microsoft are excepting themselves for Office on ARM. How is this not crippling competitors? I’m sure that anybody else who is interested in offering Office software on the platform is already preparing a missive to their local monopoly regulator.

        • Sahrin
        • 8 years ago

        What monopoly does MS have in tablets?

        You realize that Apple does the same thing…and *actually* controls the tablet market?

      • theonespork
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, those bastards!!!!

      How dare they try to gain market share and traction by bundling Office with Windows 8 for ARM. They need to unbundle and charge me for it so I can continue my awaiting a solid port of LibreOffice unfettered. Why the hell would I want free when I can have free?

      I need to pay for it so I know it works like a Windows products works (when it works like it is supposed to work).

      I am no Microsoft fan; I am no big corporation fan; I am no monopoly fan. In this case, Windows is not the 800lb gorilla. This means they have to: play nice (because I can take my business to a real and practical alternative), treat their customers like they are valued (because I do not need their BS in a world of multiple, viable competitors), respond to market conditions rather than create them (because, again, I can call BS and take my business elsewhere quite easily).

      Now before the crazies all start screaming OMG OMG OMG, did he just diss my Linux Distro? Did he just imply that the fruit’s latest kitty is not viable? Doesn’t he know that I spend all my free hours working to bring BeOS into ascendance? The answer is, yes, no, and what the hell, FreeBSD, bitch : )

      It is almost like an actual, consumer driven market might have emerged where customers are the forethought. I doubt it will last, some asshole somewhere (or an evil group of them if you like your conspiracies) will manage to pass a few laws and grease a few courts to reset the market to the duopoly that will once again strangle consumers for every ounce while barely acknowledging them as more important than their investors.

      Wow, Friday rant. Guys, I really hate my job, but sometimes I need to realize that I am directing my vitriol on the wrong people. Still, I feel better, thanks for the therapy….

        • Chrispy_
        • 8 years ago

        I use TR for all my outbursts of pent-up hatred at sh*tty tech burocracy and the idiotic state of various market positions.

        Unlike ranting to my colleagues, you guys all undertand it and rank the social acceptability of my opinion with little plusses or minuses.

        Wooo!

    • Game_boy
    • 8 years ago

    The lag between when he clicked on Explorer and when the window actually appeared shows they have a long way to go.

    • sjl
    • 8 years ago

    Of course Windows on ARM won’t be sold separately. There’s a lot more variability in the ARM space than there is in x86. x86 has BIOS and EFI, and a reasonably uniform set of capabilities (with the caveat that capabilities have grown over the years, but you can reasonably rely on a given set of extensions being present if the more recent extensions are present). ARM, on the other hand … well, let’s put it this way. Want video coding? Add this particular coprocessor. SIMD? Add that coprocessor. And so on, and so forth. There’s no standard CPU design in the way that there is in x86; one device can differ radically from another in its capabilities, and how similar capabilities are accessed.

    Boxing up an OS for ARM isn’t a viable option in the way it is for x86, and Microsoft knows it.

    The application level, though, shouldn’t be anywhere near as difficult.

      • chuckula
      • 8 years ago

      I heard the lead project manager at Canonical give a talk about how the work needed to get Ubuntu working on a wide range of ARM devices… it makes the worst driver hell in the x86 world you can imagine look like a walk in the park.

        • Deanjo
        • 8 years ago

        Well that isn’t entirely true. There has been a heck of a lot more driver hell in x86 land it’s just that with an ARM device that support has to be 100% present for everything where as on a modular x86 land people will just go out and buy a device that adds one capability and has had the development work already done for it. Even then there is a s***load of devices out there with poor or zero support in linux so people just don’t buy that device. That isn’t an option in ARM land where it is all or nothing for the most part.

        As usual, another Canonical project leader sensationalized the real issue (not surprising since they basically do nada in developing any hardware support but rely on others to develop it first for them).

      • StashTheVampede
      • 8 years ago

      This is where Microsoft will shine: they will dictate how to get everyone to talk with each other and lay out a consistent framework for the ARM platform and Windows8. Microsoft did this in the 90s (starting with Windows95) and it REALLY helped with the adoption of Windows: USB, accelerated video, PCI, BIOS connectivity, Plug and Play, etc.

      Google needs to take a page out of Microsoft’s framework and start to dictate the hardware connectivity OR go with Microsoft so enough players can work together.

      • Hattig
      • 8 years ago

      I expect that Windows on ARM will mandate an ARM Cortex A9 as minimum – mandating NEON SIMD.

      GPUs and video decoding/encoding? Merely a driver issue, just like on x86 – it’s just that Microsoft will probably be the ones writing the drivers for the various different SoCs WoARM will support out of the box initially.

      Firmware is down to the SoC manufacturer and/or hardware designer.

      ” There’s no standard CPU design” … well apart from the fact that one company dictates the instruction set (rather than two companies in the x86 world doing things differently all the time (AMD’s FMA4, Intel’s FMA3 for example). ARMv7a will be the baseline CPU instruction set WoARM will support, and when ARMv8 is available I’m sure WoARM will add support for that.

      Sure, there’s no standard SoC design, but ARM SoCs are exactly that – Systems on Chip. How many different core system configurations are there in the x86 world? Millions.

        • esterhasz
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]How many different core system configurations are there in the x86 world? Millions.[/quote<] Yeah, but they didn't fall from the sky but developed under the (benevolent?) dictatorship of first IBM and then Microsoft that guaranteed adherence to a certain number of core principles. "IBM compatible" always meant much more than x86 compatible. ARM can definitely go that way, but to get to a situation comparable to the PC world, a lot of standardization would have to happen - and maybe it will, but I guess that this kind of flexibility is on its way out...

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