Windows 8: Where less choice is a good thing
Microsoft is only releasing three versions of its next OS; or rather three versions plus one
Blogs | 17 Apr 2012 :
First the good news: Microsoft has just revealed that its forthcoming Windows 8 OS is going to come in only three different editions. Remember Vista's six editions? It was six, wasn't it? You can get a bonus point if you can name them all. And you can lose three points for being able to name them all. Did you know there are six editions of Windows 7 as well? Who knew? Who cared?
Anyway, according to the latest missive from Redmond on the Windows Team Blog , there will be three editions of Windows 8: Windows 8 Home, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT. Okay, so the last one doesn't have 8 in the title but it is a version of Windows 8, honest (and we'll come back to it in a minute). No arguing with the clarity of having two versions of Windows 8 that, as their name implies, are aimed at the consumer and professional markets.
That's got to be good news for people selling PCs or tablets and customers because it makes it easier for them to work out which version goes with which device and to which user. Or, in the words of the Windows Team blog: "We have worked to make it easier for customers to know what edition will work best for them when they purchase a new Windows 8 PC or upgrade their existing PC." Now, there's a bit of confusion about where Windows Media Centre fits because it won't be available with Windows 8 Pro except as a separate download, but we'll ignore that.
On the whole, you have to say it's much simpler than it was for Vista and Windows 7. There will be three versions of Windows 8. That's it. Got that? Good. Oh, er, we should point out that there will be four editions because, as the Windows Team Blog points out in a footnote, there will also be an edition specifically for enterprise customers with Software Assurance agreements called Windows 8 Enterprise.
So, anyway, there will be four editions of Windows 8. Okay, if you were splitting hairs, you could say there will still only be three editions of Windows 8 because Windows RT won't actually have Windows 8 in its name. But let's leave those hairs together for now and focus, for a moment, on Windows RT. What is it? Also known as WOA, it's an edition of Windows 8 that runs on ARM processors.
Windows RT will only be available pre-installed on ARM-based PCs and tablets and, according to the blog, "will enable new thin and lightweight form factors with impressive battery life. Windows RT will include touch-optimised desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote". Development of new apps will take place on Windows runtime (WinRT) which "forms the foundation of a new generation of cloud-enabled, touch-enabled, Web-connected apps of all kinds".
I think there will probably be quite a few people getting excited about Windows RT but my suspicion is it won't live up to its promise. Why? Firstly, because Intel is part of Microsoft's and Windows' DNA. I just don't see Microsoft giving Windows on ARM as much focus and support as it needs to make it really successful. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling Microsoft is going to be so busy with Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro on Intel-based PCs and tablets that it won't be able to deliver even if it wants to.
I'm also sceptical that Microsoft partners are going to be very enthused by a version of Windows that works outside the current Intel (and AMD) ecosystem. I just can't see it myself. Most of them didn't get where they are so far by deviating from the Microsoft/Intel axis.
So that just leaves the ARM-based vendors and their partners as the main supporters of Windows RT. But unlike the situation in the PC world where Windows has a huge market share, they're not exactly going to be backing a proven winner in the ARM space. In any OS ARM race, Windows is starting from so far behind Android that vendors and partners will have to put a lot of work in to get any reward.
It will be even harder to do this when rival suppliers of tablets on the ARM (and Intel platforms for that matter) will argue Windows RT is a version of Windows 8 running on a platform that is very much secondary to Intel for Microsoft. When push comes to shove, Windows 8 on Intel is far more important to Microsoft than Windows RT on ARM and that's a fact those in the ARM and Intel camps will be able to use against supporters of Windows 8 on the ARM platform.
Maybe, in due course, there will only be three editions of Windows 8 after all.