Windows and ARM: A Fork in the Road

Steve Wildstrom / December 2nd, 2011

ZDnet reports  that Microsoft has tentatively decided that Windows 8 running on ARM processors will only support new Metro-style applications, not programs written for older versions of Windows and Intel processors.

In one sense, this is not surprising. Existing applications would have to be recompiled to run at all on ARM systems and would probably need substantial tweaking to run well. The ARM systems would probably be mostly tablets, and the existing  Windows desktop interface does not work at all well on touch systems. On the whole, users of ARM-based Windows systems will be better off without these old applications.

The problem is that the result of this decision, if Microsoft goes ahead with it, is two operating systems, both called Windows 8, with radically different capabilities.  This is a situation that cannot help but create confusion for users, especially if there are both ARM and x86 tablets with very different software abilities.

I have long though that Microsoft would have been much better off following Apple’s iPad approach and use an enhanced version of a phone operating system for tablets rather than a cut-down version of a desktop OS.  What looks like it may be a fundamental fork in Windows  suggests that Microsoft made the wrong choice.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
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