By now you've probably heard that Microsoft's main Windows guy Steven Sinofsky wrote an 8,000-word blog post last week describing the technical details of how Windows 8 will run on ARM-based tablets.
Recall that we talked quite a bit about some of the weird things around Windows 8, tablets, Metro, and ARM on BrianMadden.com a few weeks ago, and I gotta say, Sinofsky's blog post just creates more questions than it answers. The only thing I can say for sure is that Microsoft's Windows 8 tablet strategy is so wonky that everyone at Apple is high-fiving each other because they're going to sell 100 million iPads in 2013.
First, the facts about WOA
Ok, here's the new stuff that we learned in Sinofsky's post:
- Windows 8 running on ARM processors will be called "Windows on ARM," or "WOA."
- WOA will only be available pre-installed onto tablets. You can't buy it or download it.
- WOA will only run apps from the official Windows Store. So no downloading your own apps. (Corporations will still be able to write their own apps which they can distribute through their private corporate connection to the Windows Store)
- Metro style Windows 8 apps can include both ARM and x86/64 binaries, so the same app can be delivered to both platforms.
- WOA will not support virtualization or emulation of any kind. So no X86/64 apps. No porting existing apps. No virtual machines. WOA is about new Metro-style apps only.
- The main user interface for WOA will be Metro, however, there will also be a legacy desktop mode for apps that aren't Metro style.
- The legacy desktop mode will be locked, however, so it will only run the legacy desktop apps that Microsoft includes with it. (And of course it's ARM, so it's not like existing apps could run anyway.)
- The desktop apps that Microsoft will include are Internet Explorer 10 (so there will be two versions of that--a desktop version and a Metro version), Windows Explorer, and Office 15.
- The Office 15 built-in to WOA will have some improvements for touch-based UI and has been tweaked to try to minimize the CPU load and power consumption, but it will be the full version of Office running in the "desktop" mode. (So desktop mode but still using touch.)
- All of this only applies to WOA (with an emphasis on the "ARM" part). There will also be x86/64-based Windows 8 tablets with Metro, and those will be more like normal tablets and will be able to run existing, legacy, and non-Windows Store x86/64 apps.
- Microsoft will make a distinction in the market between Windows 8 ARM tablets and Windows 8 x86/64
Notable quotes with my snarky commentary
If you have some time, you should read through Sinofsky's entire post, because there are a lot of cool things in there that aren't 100% related to our enterprise app delivery world. But if you don't have time, I've pulled out the relevant quotes below (along with my commentary).
"With WOA you can look forward to integrated, end-to-end products—hardware, firmware and WOA software, all built from the ground up."
> Except for desktop file explorer, the control panel, desktop IE, and Office 15.
"The availability of the Windows desktop is an important part of WOA. The desktop offers you a familiar place to interact with PCs, particularly files, storage, and networking, as well as a range of peripherals. You can use Windows Explorer, for example, to connect to external storage devices, transfer and manage files from a network share, or use multiple displays, and do all of this with or without an attached keyboard and mouse—your choice. At the same time, WOA (as with Windows 8) is designed so that customers focused on Metro style apps don’t need to spend time in the desktop. Availability of the desktop incurs no runtime overhead. It is just there should you want or need it."
> That's cool that the desktop doesn't take any overhead. But if so, why not let people write apps for it? I mean isn't it weird that Microsoft is saying "you have to rewrite all your apps for Metro... which is something that we couldn't do with Office, so we get a free pass to include the desktop version of Office, but you can't do that. Na-nana-nana-naaa!!!"
Obviously the conspiracy theorist in me thinks they're doing this just to force more people to use Metro. (Though the only behavioral change they might actually force is more enterprises to deploy iPads.)
"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. 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."
> Like Internet plug-ins?
Seriously, this is some major spin BS.
When explaining why WOA won't allow any emulation or virtualization software, Sinofsky wrote, "Emulation and virtualization of existing x86/64 software also require the traditional PC environment of mouse and keyboard, which is not a good assumption for WOA PCs."
> But again they chose to include desktop IE, Explorer, and the control panel options.
"WOA can deliver on a new level of customer satisfaction: your WOA PC will continue to perform well over time as apps are isolated from the system and each other, and you will remain in control of what additional software is running on your behalf, all while letting the capabilities of diverse hardware shine through."
> This is true and awesome. And definitely the future. So good work there. (Except of course they still have desktop mode with apps that aren't isolated.
"If you need to run existing x86/64 software, then you will be best served with Windows 8 on x86/64."
> So go ahead and get that iPad!
Seriously, that statement is the nail in the coffin for me. If WOA is just about Metro apps, then why would anyone buy a WOA tablet instead of an iPad? Do you really think there's anyone holding out to write their app in WinRT for Metro in a year who hasn't already written an iOS version?
"If you’re already considering a non-Windows device, then we think WOA will be an even better alternative when you consider the potential of form factors, peripherals, Windows Store apps (and developer platform), and Office applications as well as a broad set of intrinsic Windows capabilities."
> So basically he's saying that the advantage that WOA tablets will have over iPads & Android tablets is that they'll come in more than one size and Office is built-in. I guess we just answered Jack's question from last month about why Microsoft hasn't released Office for iOS.
"we do want to assure you that, when a consumer buys a WOA PC, it will be clearly labeled and branded so as to avoid potential confusion with Windows 8 on x86/64."
> I'm getting a headache even thinking about that. So there will be two Windows 8 tablets sitting side-by-side in the store. They both have the metro style UI and they both look the same. But one somehow communicates that it can only run apps from the Windows Store, while the other can run apps from the Windows Store and the customer's existing apps?
This reminds me of that old video "What if Microsoft designed the iPod packaging?"
(I die every time at 1:09 when the "this is an empty box" sticker appears.)
Why even bother with the desktop IE and Explorer on WOA?
So if WOA will come with a metro style Internet Explorer and file explorer, and if the desktop Internet Explorer won't even allow plug-ins, why bother? What's the point?
Ed Bott wrote an article on this last week, called "Why Windows on ARM has a desktop." The gist of his post was because there are a lot of things you need to do (system settings, security settings, real file maintenance, etc.) that you just can't do in the metro style versions of the apps.
If this is the case then it means that the desktop mode would be for occasional configuration-type tasks, and that it's a stop-gap measure that will go away at some point. It will be interesting to see how the desktop apps work without a keyboard and mouse. I know Microsoft said that they modified Office so that it can be touch-friendly, but I wonder about the other desktop apps? Will they operate in mouse emulation mode instead of true touch?
And what about the fact that iPads and Android tablets don't keyboard and mouse-based file managers and configuration applications? I find it hard to believe that Microsoft can port the entire Windows 20+ years of legacy to ARM, they can port Office to ARM and make Office lower power, better on battery, and have a multitouch interface, yet they can't find the time to make the f'ing control panel work?!?
What other questions did this post answer?
Last month I wrote that Microsoft tablets would have a tough time competing on price since a $70 Windows license would kill any chance that a Windows tablet maker would have at being price-competitive with an iPad. Well making WOA so restrictive we can now see that Microsoft could have a special lower price for Windows 8 on ARM, and then the regular price for Windows 8 on x86/64.
WOA for enterprise tablets? I think not.
So who's WOA aimed for? Enterprises or consumers? These guys at ZDNet say that WOA is an enterprise platform, not a consumer platform, but I would suggest the exact opposite.
If you're an enterprise, why would you buy this thing? There's no backwards compatibility. You can't run all the plugins to make the browser work with your enterprise web apps. You can't run Browsium on it. Why would an enterprise want this thing? Is adding it to the domain really that important? There are plenty of MDM tools for iOS and Android now. So WOA is like an iPad, except it doesn't exist yet and when it does exist there will be no apps. It's like Windows Starter Edition.
And that awesome HTML5-compliant metro style version of Internet Explorer? Congratulations Microsoft, you just built Safari for iPad!
So instead enterprises are stuck with the slow, expensive, short-batteried x86/64 Windows 8 tablets. (Maybe Intel's behind all these WOA limitations. :) Because if you don't need that kind of freedom or compatibility, you'll just buy iPads and make your users happy.
This is quite ironic since Microsoft seems to be so afraid of the iPad. But this defense is just so uncoordinated and haphazard. Are they defending with an app compatibility story? Or a better tablet story? Or a better UI story? Or more freedom of choice? And you can't say "yes" to all of these because they don't have one device that fits all of these.
What other questions remain?
Of course there are plenty of other questions that remain too. Will OEMs be able to ship WOA tablets without the desktop mode? Will they be able to add their own legacy apps to the desktop mode? Will the desktop mode actually require a keyboard and mouse? (If not, what will that be like? Touch-based mouse emulation? Yikes!)
So now for Windows 8, Microsoft has the desktop/laptop, the slate PC/tablet, the tablet, and the phone. Some run ARM, and some run x86/64. Some run Metro, some run desktop, and some run both. Some can run any apps, and some can only run certain apps.
And of course, none of this is available today.