I have just returned from a great week in Anahiem, CA, where I attended Microsoft’s BUILD conference where Windows 8 was unveiled in detail, along with Windows 8 Server and the next version of Visual Studio (VS11).
I’ll have a lot more to say about Windows 8 in future posts, but I just wanted to briefly cover a subject that I’ve had many conversations about during and since BUILD.
One of the most important new features of Windows 8 is that Microsoft have ported Windows to run on devices powered by ARM processors.
ARM processors are used by almost all smartphone and tablet manufacturers due to their great performance per watt characteristics. Companies like nVidia, Qualcomm, Freescale, Ti and Marvell combine ARM processor cores with graphics, networking, WiFi, Bluetooth, audio and other useful hardware into individual (tiny) packages that are referred to as Systems On a Chip (SOC):
Image Source: Anandtech.com
Hardware manufacturers then attach SOC’s to circuit boards, add some memory, physical connectors for USB, radios for WiFi, cellular, GPS and BlueTooth, etc.
Image Source: BeagleBoard.org
OEM’s then take the (often miniscule) motherboard, add a battery, some storage, a screen and some buttons, stuff everything in a case and create a wide variety of smartphones and tablets for your enjoyment.
While ARM cores have primarily been extremely frugal in terms of electrical power consumption, their processing performance has not allowed them to be used in more complex and sophisticated devices such as laptops and PC’s. Until recently.
Current-generation ARM-based chips are now able to compete from a performance perspective with some of Intel’s low-end processors whilst sipping a small fraction of the power required by Intel’s chips. Further, while today’s ARM-based SOC’s are not as powerful as Intel’s processors, from a processing performance standpoint, ARM is working hard to execute on its aggressive plans to rapidly close the performance gap with Intel whilst keeping its power-consumption requirements very low.
By porting Windows 8 to run on ARM-based devices, Microsoft is massively expanding the reach of the world’s most widely used operating system and application platform to a MUCH broader ecosystem than now includes a large array of different devices offering a wide variety of form factors, sizes, styles, shapes and designs. And by creating new user experience tuned for both touch and traditional keyboard/mouse interactions, Microsoft is providing a formidable platform upon which application developers can build compelling new applications and experiences to delight their customers with.
The first generation of Windows really started with the launch of Windows 3.0 in 1991. The second generation of Windows started with the launch of Windows 95 and has pretty much carried us forwards (albeit with some important improvements) through Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7.
The third generation of Windows starts here and now with Windows8’s new-found touch-centric, multi-device evolution. It’s going to be fascinating to see how this story unfolds, how customers react to the biggest change to Windows since Windows 95 ushered-in the start menu and how the rest of the industry adapts to the re-emergence of what they thought was a sleeping giant.