How Microsoft is Starting Over With Windows 8

Ben Bajarin / September 14th, 2011

One of the things that I have been observing as we have seen bits of Windows 8 get shared publicly, is the drastic re-thinking of the OS and the role of the OS by Microsoft.

Obviously the most glaring sign is the Metro UI which presents information in an entirely new way. The other somewhat obvious but somewhat subtle observation is around touch. Given that Microsoft has been thinking about touch as it relates to Windows for quite a while now, it is surprising that they actually got it right as late as they did.

Regardless of how long it took I actually think Microsoft has finally nailed touch at least in the area of the operating system. The next question will be can they and their development community nail touch with applications.

The last interesting observation is around Windows on ARM. There is still very little information regarding and being shared with WoA (Windows on ARM), which may not be a good sign, however we do know that new applications created using MSFT’s tools are supposedly able to cross both X86 and ARM versions of Windows.

There is still the question of legacy applications written for X86 and whether they will work on ARM. As far as I can tell from talking with industry folks the consensus is no, they would need to be re-complied or written again from scratch. Another early observation and perhaps needed clarification is whether or not the non-Metro UI version of Windows is available on ARM. I am yet to get a clear answer on that point but some trustworthy sources tell me only the Metro UI is Windows on ARM.

Now if that is true that existing Windows applications are not backwards compatible with ARM and the Metro UI is the only way you experience WoA then I am left to conclude that Windows 8 on ARM is essentially a brand new operating system.

It is an entirely new look and feel, it requires brand new apps with no support for existing ones, therefore an entirely new third-party development ecosystem needs to cultivated. If that is true then how can we not consider it an entirely new OS platform?

So why doesn’t MSFT call it something other that Windows? The answer I believe is because WoA and Windows 8 holistically is Microsoft’s best attempt to completely start over with Windows.

Windows on ARM is clearly a re-start of Windows, assuming my claim of a new OS is valid, and they are pushing the Metro UI as a larger part of the overall Windows experience while downplaying the more familiar start bar, program, task manager, application bar part of the Windows UI.

I don’t think it is any industry secret that Windows has continued to maintain many of the same fundamental OS technologies for over a decade. Some of those things like the registry for example may not be the best ways to go forward. This is why I believe Microsoft knew they needed a fundamental rebuilding of the OS at a functional and fundamental level and Windows 8 is their best attempt at a re-start.

If they can successfully transition their partners to a new OS that is built to thrive in the PC and the Post-PC era then it will benefit them greatly.

I actually applaud this work of theirs to scrap many of the things they clung to from Windows of the past and look more to the future role Windows will play in the personal computing ecosystem.

In fact if you think about it there is no better time for Microsoft to have a fundamental re-start of Windows than now. My ONLY hope is that they execute on this platform and that they get it right the first time.

I do not believe Microsoft can withstand the “third times a charm” syndrome they have faced in the past given how fast this market is moving.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • Anonymous

    I didn’t pay close attention to build, so corrections appreciated. But I heard that Win8 would run virtually the same on either ARM or Intel. Ditto, apps written for Win8, although they would have to specifically target the appropriate CPU. You could, if you wanted, recompile your C# code and put it on either box.

    But absent re-compiling, legacy Win apps should run fine… ONLY on the Intel version. On-the-fly translation (“emulation”) techniques are increasingly good but this would be challenging to have a complex Intel app run reasonably well on ARM. I don’t think that Microsoft would attempt it — lots of work to support apps that the developer doesn’t bother to re-write and that won’t run very well, making the solution appear weak. The same sort of thing that caused Jobs to ban Flash from the iProducts.

    But I’ve mis-guessed Microsoft before and maybe they think this would be a very important feature.

    • Anonymous

      Yes legacy works but not in Metro from what I understand. Running legacy win apps you bring up basically the “old” Windows UI. All again only on X86.

      For ARM its basically a brand new OS. That was where I was heading. You are right that virtualizing on ARM would be too much for the CPU to handle.

      What I am gathering though is that MSFT basically wants the community to write new apps for this new version of Windows. Again putting all that together it feels like its just a brand new OS they are just calling Windows.

      Given that we are a year away from launch I consider this a “living” analysis since things may change as we learn more.

  • Rich

    This post seems right. But the name “Windows” sounds like the 1990s to me.

  • Anonymous

    The post here show’s nvidia kal el(tegra 3) running windows 8 quite well, it doesn’t seem to be lacking in features http://thisismynext.com/2011/09/14/nvidia-kal-el-windows-8-tablet-hands-on/

  • Anonymous

    Windows 8 = Windows 7 + Metro, but Windows 7 apps do not run on Windows 8 ARM devices.

    So what’s the advantage of Windows on ARM if you can’t have Windows legacy apps? You might as well just switch to a brand new OS ecosystem since you will have to buy all new apps anyways.

    And whats’ the advantage of Windows 8 on Intel if you can run your legacy apps just as well on Windows 7? You might as well not bother to upgrade and save yourself some money.

    The OEMs will have to throw some kind of OS on their PCs, so I’m sure Win 8 will sell a gazillion licenses, but I really don’t see a compelling reason for corporations or individuals to upgrade PCs or buy Windows Tablets as opposed to buying Android/Apple devices.

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