Ina Fried

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Windows 8 Forces Some Compromises After All

Steven Sinofsky talks about Windows 8 as a “no compromise” operating system, but the fact is there are some trade-offs to be made.

Although the new Windows offers a number of upsides, including the fact it runs on a wider range of processors, such flexibility comes at a cost.

Systems that run Windows 8 using low-power ARM processors will be able to run all of the new-style Windows applications, but it appears few traditional Windows programs will run. Microsoft demonstrated a technology preview of Office running on ARM back in January, but Sinofsky said that in general older Windows applications won’t run on ARM-based machines.

That’s not to say Microsoft didn’t make the right choices when it comes to Windows 8. Were Microsoft to have brought over all of its legacy to the new chips, it might well have lost the long battery life and other benefits that ARM-based systems can provide.

A strong case can be made that this break with the past is exactly what Microsoft needed in order to compete with a new generation of devices running operating systems designed with mobility in mind.

However, the choice means that Microsoft and its partners will need lots of new apps to make Windows 8 a success. Indeed, a big part of this week’s Build conference will be equipping developers with the tools they need to write such programs and convincing them of the upside of doing so.

Recognizing this, some of Redmond’s partners are taking matters into their own hands. Nvidia, for example, plans its own program to convince developers to write new-style Windows apps.

“We’re going to be investing in our own effort to get developers on board,” Nvidia General Manager Rene Haas said in an interview.

But if the company faces challenges getting developers to write the new apps, Haas said he is not worried about finding PC makers willing to make machines with the ARM-based processors. Such systems, he said, can be slimmer and cheaper and offer better battery life than those running traditional PC processors from Intel and AMD, he said.

“We’ve seen very big OEM interest,” Haas said, using the industry term for PC makers. “Virtually every OEM around the world wants to do something with Windows-on-ARM.”

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