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2/3/2012
02:33 PM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky

Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 appear to look very much alike. That's great news for users, but can Redmond pull off one OS across desktops, mobile and more?

According to Windows Phone 8 leaks, the mobile OS will share code with the Windows 8 client--a clear sign that Microsoft wants a single operating system that can stretch across PCs, tablets, phones, and even entertainment devices. The strategy could give Redmond a big edge over rivals who've split their software into desktop and mobile products. But it also carries some real risks.

New details emerged this week on Windows Phone 8, which (no big surprise here) will be the successor to Windows Phone 7. Video said to be viewed by the site PocketNow showed Windows Phone VP Joe Belfiore touting new features on the platform, which Microsoft is developing under the code name Apollo.

Components such as the kernel and networking stack, as well as a number of security features, including BitLocker, are taken directly from Windows 8, not Windows CE--on which Windows Phone 7 was built.

Additionally, if the leaked video is authentic--and Microsoft so far hasn't said it isn't--Windows Phone 8 will, like its PC cousin, offer support for C/C++ programming, multi-core processors and multiple screen resolutions, and external hardware like microSD cards. Windows 8 and Windows Phone will also both run Metro apps.

On the video, Belfiore reportedly says that, in writing for Windows Phone 8, developers will be able to "reuse--by far--most of their code" from Windows 8. This news comes after Microsoft has already made clear that Windows 8 will be both a desktop and a tablet OS. The company now seems to be merging phones into the mix as well. "It appears that Windows Phone 8 will leverage important parts of Windows 8 while running the same application base," IDC analyst Al Hilwa tells me.

This grand unification strategy could give Microsoft an edge over Google and Apple. Most significantly, if apps developed for Windows 8 can run across PCs, tablets, and phones with minimal porting issues, then the platform should be a huge magnet for developers anxious to get the most bang for their buck. One issue currently hampering the Windows Phone ecosystem is that it "only" has about 60,000 apps. That sounds like a lot, but it pales in comparison to more than 500,000 apps for the iPhone and, if you can believe Wikipedia (since Google does not release a number,) more than 300,000 apps for Android.

Windows Phone's app count could jump exponentially if Windows 8 creates a common development environment across desktop and mobile products while Apple continues to push Mac OS for PCs and iOS for the iPad and iPhone and Google splits desktop and mobile between Chrome OS and Android.

Now to the risky part. Microsoft’s plan to unite PCs, tablets, and phones under a single OS sounds great in theory, but there are questions as to whether Microsoft can pull it off. If the effort flops, or is beset by delays caused by the many technical issues involved, the company could fall even farther behind its competitors. It's already so far behind that it risks getting lapped. (Arguably, it already has been—Apple will assuredly release iPad 3 before we see the first Windows 8 tablet).

There are already signs that the plan might not go smoothly. Microsoft ideally wants Windows 8 to be hardware agnostic, possibly through the use of abstraction layers and some virtualization and cloud technologies. But already there are questions about Windows' cross-platform potential.

Windows chief Steven Sinofsky has said that Windows 8 tablets that are powered by ARM-based chips won't run legacy Windows apps. And Intel execs have said that Windows 8 devices powered by anything other than their processors won't offer the full Windows experience.

Intel, of course, is biased. But that doesn't make it any less true that the Windows client, to date, has never officially run on anything except Intel processors or x86 and x64 clones. How the Windows client performs on chips, like Qualcomm's Snapdragon, that were built to run operating systems that carry a light footprint--something Windows has never been accused of--is an open question.

"It remains to be seen how hard or easy it will be for developers to modify apps written for one OS for the other," says Hilwa. Such questions become more pointed given Microsoft’s history of significant delays in bringing out new versions of Windows for the x86 platform alone, with which it is well familiar.

Risks aside, Microsoft's apparent plan to unify its operating systems makes a lot of sense in an era in which consumers and workers are jumping from device to device to access personal or business information. Users want that information to be the same, in terms of content and look and feel, regardless of where they get it. Microsoft should be lauded for attempting to give users that experience. Let’s just hope the company can really do it.

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nna12301
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nna12301,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/15/2012 | 10:04:31 AM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
Let's get the nomenclature right. He said "apps" and you're talking about Windows "programs." The apps he's talking about are the new Metro-style software that run in WinRT and not the old Win32. These new apps will all run identically on both ARM and Intel/AMD processors. The Windows app Store will serve up the same apps for all machines thanks to WinRT.

If Microsoft's WinRT apps run across ARM tablets, Intel PCs, ARM phones, and a new AMD powered Xbox then Microsoft has a major advantage over it's competitors.

Win32 is the past and will be increasingly deprecated from Windows over time in the same way that DOS programs were. System compatibility concerns regarding old Win32 programs will decrease exponentially overtime as modern WinRT apps take their place and overshadow them.
TreeInMyCube
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TreeInMyCube,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2012 | 10:24:11 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
The timing will be very interesting. As some other commenters have noted, harmonizing development platforms can take more than a year. All the building blocks are there for running the same Microsoft OS on mobile devices and notebook/desktop clients, but the execution will take a while. Apple is still in the process of making it easy for MacOS apps to move easily to iOS, and vice versa. Will the tech world -- especially the tech media -- give Microsoft the time needed to make progress down the road, or will they proclaim their work as "too little, too late"?
fowlbruce
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fowlbruce,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2012 | 8:07:04 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
We shall hope they do better than Shuttleworth/Canonical did with the Ubuntu/Unity debacle.
BTOPPING000
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BTOPPING000,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2012 | 6:42:49 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
"This grand unification strategy could give Microsoft an edge over Google and Apple. "

iPhone's IOS has always been based on OS-X from day one, they just layered Cocoa Touch on top of it instead of Cocoa. UIs in both environments are wired with Interface Builder, merely using different UI elements with the same wiring. The additional cost of redoing the UI in interface builder for the opposite platform is something that can be handled very rapidly.

Contrast to WinMo, which is based on WinCE -- a completely different operating system vs. Windows. Basic APIs between the platforms are not 100% compatible, and this is what Microsoft is trying to achieve. It's not just that there is some means to carry the interface across platforms, but that the code that the UI leverages needs to be ported from a maddeningly different set of APIs.

Thus, Microsoft is not going to "get an edge" over Apple with this strategy, they are simply going to catch up (and I can't speak for Google). As kpbpsw points out as well, this is not likely to be a smooth transition for developers, as the age of an API does not correlate to qualitative semantic aspects, and even so, the semantics on both platforms are going to have to be significantly changed in order to find a common denominator for both. In turn, very few apps from either legacy are just going to compile and run on the new APIs.
worleyeoe
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worleyeoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2012 | 2:01:29 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
Actually, you need to read up on the Atom roadmap post Medfield, which has been optimized to run Android. Those Android tablets will be out by 2nd Qtr. By W8's release, Clover Trail will be here, then Silvermont in 2013 and Airmont in 2014, taking Atom down to 14 nm and most likely ahead of ARM. Also, Intel is being very aggressive with advanced power management. So, 2012 is the year Intel will finally field a SoC that's competitive with ARM all the way down to cell phones. Even the ARM CEO is now admitting that Intel is being competitive.

And as far as fans are concerned, you are wrong as well here. Until Atom based Medfield and Clover Trail tablets arrive by the dozens, let's not predict or worry too much about tablet thickness. The upcoming DRIOD RAZR is an example of excessive thinness. Motorola is going from something like a 1600 Mah to a 3000 Mah battery just to cope with the LTE battery drain and to a lesser extent the drain caused by dual-cores.

And of course, the reason why x86 on tablets has the opportunity to be huge is because it will let the platform do almost everything a real desktop will do, something that nothing in the ARM camp will be able to do. This is a very big market, but like Paul says, both MS and Intel will have to execute well to pull it off, although from reading Paul's articles before, he seems to be anti-MS and definitely an alarmist. W8/WP8 Apollo will ship this year and will add to the string of strong successes MS has delivered since releasing W7.
Red.Foxx15
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Red.Foxx15,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2012 | 8:56:51 AM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
""could give Microsoft an edge over Google and Apple. Most significantly, if apps developed for Windows 8 can run across PCs, tablets, and phones"

We already know the answer to that.... they won't"

I agree and disagree

I agree that it wont really give them an edge over the main competitors (Apple at least) since they are doing rather well with their cross hardware mobile OS

I disagree that It might take the long haul and require that Microsoft really dedicate themselves to this, but when you are the leading operating system in the market and you are able to take that to other devices you have the edge because you are what most people already know from years of using your product at home.

What has me attracted to iOS right now is that majority of the apps that you have on your iphone 3gs will work on the 4s and will work on your choice of the tablets apple offers as well. Its a very attractive feature and if you can mimic it was something familiar like Windows is, you stand a good chance to get back in the race.

I would like to think that Intel's new mobile chip that they've been bragging about lately would help with the cross platform issues, but i wouldn't be surprised if this were not the case.

Any way it goes, I'm genuinely interested for once to see how a project that Microsoft is working on (outside of the console gaming sector) is going
awebb199
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awebb199,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2012 | 3:30:12 AM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
http://www.microsoft.com/press...
explains what is going on pretty well. There is a new API coming called WinRT, but the old APIs are still supported. And the old APIs will work on ARM processors too, even the native applications that compiled to x86.

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/vcblog...

"This month, on the 20th anniversary of our first C++ compiler, weG«÷re looking forward to shipping the beta of Visual C++ 11. It includes support for ARM processors, Windows 8 tablet apps, C++ AMP for heterogeneous parallel computing, automatic parallelization, and the complete ISO C++11 standard libraryG«™ and a few more of the new C++11 language features too."

Generally speaking, the developer will able to just recompile for ARM if Windows 8 is running on ARM. (They might have to get their 3rd party libraries recompiled also.)

So hlub is WRONG to claim that apps developed for Windows 8 won't run across PCs, tablets, and phones. The binaries won't, but the applications can be recompiled and then they will run. (Not on WP7, but on WP8)

I predict the Win Phone 8, Windows 8 OS, and development tools will all be ready in about a year. Intel will also being catching up in low power by then too.

hlubinv8l
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hlubinv8l,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/4/2012 | 8:05:44 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
"could give Microsoft an edge over Google and Apple. Most significantly, if apps developed for Windows 8 can run across PCs, tablets, and phones"

We already know the answer to that.... they won't.

Microsoft has already said that x86 Windows applications won't run on the ARM version of Windows 8 (for obvious reasons).

Since multi-touch tablets and smartphones use ARM processors which run cooler and more energy efficient than x86 processors, current and future x86 Windows applications will not run on them.

Windows applications will run on tablets with Intel/AMD processors, but those tablets are thicker, heavier, fan-cooled, and have very short battery life.

This is why all current tablets run on ARM processors, and all of the apps (iOS, Android, WebOS) that run on these tablets are ARM-native applications.
kpbpsw
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kpbpsw,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/4/2012 | 6:15:06 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
Yes as noted by East Coast Tech Windows NT was once supported on MIPS and PPC processors, and died because while the OS ran there was no Application support for the other processors as there will be no Application support for Window 8 on ARM unless MSFT get people to write for it in addition to writing for X86 windows 8.
Apple has proved this not only possible but an effective strategy as OSX and iOS both use the same basic OS, development environment and basic libraries / Framework, but compile to different processor architectures and for different basic hardware configurations (mouse/keboard vs touch).
It took Apple about a decade to develop OSX /iOS to the point they are today building a large developer base around a single development environment with a depth of cross architecture proven os abstracted services.
While Windows has a very large developer base it does not have a monolithic development environment and has massive amounts of legacy code and services that may not be practical to build and maintain on many platforms, in addition to having historical problematic basic structural problems (the reliance on the registry). Expecting developers to across all the Windows tools and frameworks to be able to support PC format on Intel, Tablet format on Arm and Intel and Phone format on ARM and variations is very aggressive for a company starting from what appears to be 2+ years behind OSX/iOS in just Windows Phone 7.
There is no question this is going to be a very messy transition for MSFT's partners and there is no way it will go smoothly, but if they can make it through the next few years without totally alienating their developer base and large corporate user base (they effectively no longer have a consumer user base) they could leverage their desktop environment into a leadership position in mobil computing.
I would not bet on it working out that well. I remember Longhorn / Vista along with NT on MIPS!
East Coast Tech
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East Coast Tech,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/4/2012 | 3:41:59 PM
re: Microsoft Windows 8 Unification Plan: Grand, But Risky
"But that doesn't make it any less true that the Windows client, to date, has never officially run on anything except Intel processors or x86 and x64 clones."

...technically true, but very misleading. "Client", of course, refers to the mainstream consumer-branded Windows. But that's missing the point. Even our modern Windows 7 and the upcoming 8 are NT-based operating systems. NT kernel, network stack, security model, process model, drivers, etc.

And anybody who has done their homework knows that the NT family was developed on the ill-fated i860 platform, and was then ported to other architectures including PowerPC, MIPS, DEC Alpha, and (of course) x86.

Naturally, only the x86 and derived x86-64 variants, along with IA64, survive into the modern day. But let's make no mistake about this- the underpinning for a multi-platform OS is already in the Windows codebase. Hence the Hardware Abstraction Layer, among other things. MSFT will have to do a good deal of work to get ARM support going, but they aren't having to reinvent the wheel here.
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