Microsoft Corp. announced earlier this week that its Windows 8 operating system who be released in only four flavours, down from the six versions for Windows 7. Peole have long been on Microsoft's case about the complexity of its OS offerings — Which Windows 7 do you run? Do you remember? Do you remember *why*? — so this is a step in the right direction, with only two choices for home users, an enterprise version and something called Windows 8 RT, née Windows on ARM, or WOA.
RT will, as its previous name suggests, run on ARM processor-based hardware, which is most of the smart phone and tablet world. But it'll be a stripped-down version that won't be capable of running full-fledged Windows applications, and won't boast some of the enterprise management features that IT departments need.
This provoked a head-slap from me. With huge opportunity in the tablet market and the potential for integration across devices, and all the buzz of the new OS launch, why would Microsoft put a half-powered version of its operating system on the hardware form factor that will almost certainly be the fastest growing in the foreseeable future?
This puts me in a bit of an awkward position, as it baldly contradicts what I've been saying for the past year-and-a-half.
Since Microsoft announced its one-operating-system-to-rule-them-all strategy, putting Windows 8 on not just computers but also tablets and smart phones, I've said it's a mistake. A tablet is really more like a smart phone than a computer; why slow it down with the bloat of a full-fledged computer operating system?
A couple of things have happened since. I've seen Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 side-by-side. WIndows Phone 7 is by far my favourite mobile interface; after years of mobile OSs from Redmond that were awful at best, the operating system team hit this one out of the park. Far more intuitive than BlackBerry OS, much more powerful from a professional perspective than Apple's iOS, not as fragmented as Android, it most resembles the lamented Palm/HP webOS that sank like a stone, bereft of marketing effort. And seeing them side-by-side, Phone 7 and Window 8 on a desktop have a lot in common in terms of navigability.
What about the bloat? I can't speak to the actual footprint of the operating system. But I have seen it run on a Mac Airbook in a virtual machine that was pretty scantily provisioned — a single 2.3 GHz processor and 1 G of RAM — and, while it wasn't lightning fast, it was certainly adequate. So sluggishness doesn't seem to be an issue.
So stripping out the enterprise functionality makes this a consumer play, when the biggest opportunity for Microsoft is the tablet as a fully integrated member of the enterprise family. Has Microsoft learned nothing from Research in Motion?
To be fair, the capabilities of a full-fledged Windows 8 on a smart phone would be sorely underused; I stand by my earlier position that a smart phone-specific operating system is needed.
But hopefully, when Intel makes its mark in the tablet market — it released its first smart phone to the Indian market this week — Microsoft won't make the same mistake it's making with ARM-based devices.