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Sneak Peek: Windows 8 on ARM

Posted: 15 Feb 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:OS  blog post 

Microsoft detailed 'Windows on ARM (WOA)', which is claimed as a new member of the Windows family, "much like Windows Server, Windows Embedded, or Windows Phone." Using Windows 8 on ARM devices "out of the box" will feel the same as on x86/64 PCs, and both versions will be released at the same time, the company said in a blog post.

"You will sign in the same way. You will start and launch apps the same way. You will use the new Windows Store the same way. You will have access to the intrinsic capabilities of Windows, from the new Start screen and Metro style apps and Internet Explorer, to peripherals, and if you wish, the Windows desktop with tools like Windows File Explorer and desktop Internet Explorer," explained Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows Division at Microsoft. "Representing a no-compromise experience, WOA will look and feel just like you would expect."

Addressing issues of compatible software for the ARM architecture, Sinofsky said WOA would include Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote in a package codenamed "Office 15," significantly architected for both touch and minimised power/resource consumption while also being fully-featured for consumers and providing complete document compatibility. Thus, rather than be a Metro-style app, Office on ARM will run in the same way as a desktop application.

Whether Office on Windows 8 ARM devices will be bundled in and whether or not it will be free, however, is still unknown.

Microsoft did clarify that WOA would not be available as stand-alone, meaning users will not be able to load it on any ARM-based device, instead, it will be loaded directly onto OEM partner products.

"Partners will provide WOA PCs as integrated, end-to-end products that include hardware, firmware, and Windows on ARM software," said Sinofsky, noting that this was to be expected from consumer electronics devices relying on "unique and integrated pairings of hardware and software."

Sinofsky also addressed the fact that various ARM-based chipsets would provide different experiences, noting, "each ARM licencee building these packages takes a different approach to selecting features, making product trade-offs, and designing the complete silicon package."

These choices, he said, would offer a differentiation factor.

"There is no single ARM experience, and as we have seen with other operating systems, even the same ARM CPU combined with different components, drivers, and software can yield different types or qualities of experiences."

Sinofsky said this was the reason Microsoft chose to work with three different ARM licencees from the get go, namely Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments.

"Each brings different expertise and different approaches, and all will make a unique contribution to WOA," he said.

WOA was a "significant engineering task"

Sinofsky admitted that enabling Windows to run "super well" on the ARM architecture had been a significant engineering task, but said the outcome would be a "re-imagined Windows from the chipset to the experience."

Part of that experience is the Metro style application setup, hardware-accelerated HTML5 with Internet Explorer 10 and an "instant connectivity" feature.

WOA devices don't need to be turned off, according to Microsoft, because they operate similarly to mobile phones on "connected standby," making traditional modes of "hibernate" and "sleep" redundant.

"When the screen is on, you have access to the full power and capabilities of the WOA PC. When the screen goes dark (by pressing the power button or timer), the PC enters a new, very low-power mode that enables the battery to last for weeks," said Sinofsky.

Indeed, the system will dynamically adjust its power consumption and will always be trying to find opportunities to reduce power to unused parts of the system.

Connected standby won't be limited to the ARM architecture, said Sinofsky, noting that Microsoft was actively working on the same capabilities for x86/64 SoC products as well.

Meanwhile, developers wanting to write apps for WOA do so by writing them for the WinRT (Windows APIs for building Metro style apps) using new Visual Studio 11 tools, including C#/VB/XAML and Jscript/ HTML5.

Native code targeting WinRT is also supported using C and C++, said Sinofsky, though he admitted that WOA does not support running, emulating, or porting existing x86/64 desktop apps.

Sinofsky said Microsoft would also make available "a limited number of test PCs" on ARM-based platforms for developers to experiment with, towards the end of February. The samples will be distributed to selected developers in a "closed, invitation-only programme," with Sinofsky making clear that these would not be "samples or hints of forthcoming PCs, but tools for hardware and software engineers running WOA-specific hardware."

Microsoft has still not laid out a specific timeframe for the availability of the full commercial version of Windows 8, but several Microsoft partners have said they hope to have WOA devices on shelves in time for the 2012 holiday season.

- Sylvie Barak
  EE Times

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