Cheap Imitation: The Risk of Windows on ARM

As is stands Microsoft is tying itself up in knots. When Steve Ballmer announced Windows would support ARM at CES 2011 he proclaimed “Whatever device you use, Windows will be there.” He has been proved right. Windows will be there on phones as Windows Phone, there on tablets as Windows 8 (x86/x64) and WOA, there on laptops and PCs as Windows 8 – and possibly WOA should the smartbook concept actually kick off this time. All offer different functionality and legacy support, but all have the Metro UI over the top. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course there is an alternative perspective, one where Microsoft is being very clever. In this version of events Microsoft is happy to accept short term confusion to jump ahead of the competition. It is widely accepted desktop and mobile platforms will eventually merge and with WOA Microsoft will have laid the foundations before anyone else. With essentially no desktop, an apps focus and compliance with ARM, WOA is a hybrid between Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Instead of being the unsatisfactory half measure, it could actually be the future of both. And where is the competition? Mac OS X has a few multi-touch gestures and ‘Natural Scrolling’, while Android’s desktop alter ego is a disembodied browser with an unclear future. It will be a painful transition for all involved, but Microsoft is the only one preparing to suffer the first blows now.  


Then again we have to question whether this apparent martyrdom is really necessary. Windows Phone could have been easily expanded to tablets and Windows 8 coders could have focused on the significant task of merging desktop and Metro UIs (at present it still feels like a botch job) instead of having to write a second, crippled version of the OS from the ground up for ARM. This way the product lines are kept distinct, but intuitively similar and with the speed ARM chips are scaling Windows 9 could have been a true hybrid product. One that potentially could have done away with the need for Windows Phone altogether…

and an 8,627 word blog post.

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