After the last post – and conversations with several people, notably Mark Wilson I’ve been thinking about how Microsoft’s mobile offerings might develop now that Windows Phone 7 is out in the market. As I’ve said before Microsoft talk about slates as if the ideal is a more portable PC. Early in 2011 Intel’s “Oak Trail” Atom Processors will deliver better battery life than the X86/X64 platform has known to date, but I doubt that we’ll get a sub 750g slate with X86/X64 CPU AND all-day battery anytime soon.
The usefulness of a personal computer – whether it runs Windows, MacOs or Linux – stems from its working with all the programs, data data and devices (collectively “stuff” ) that you want it to. Tell a user of one OS they would be better on another and the response and reason for staying is “the stuff I want is here, not there” and that is as true of company IT people defending using Windows XP past the end of its support life as it trying to persuade a Mac die-hard to get a Windows PC.
I read something recently to the effect that if usefulness was only a matter carry-ability and battery life the calculator is more useful than an iPad. It sounds facetious; but taking a iPad for the subset of work that a calculator can handle would be overkill. But it applies in the other direction, the attraction of a mobile personal computer is that you can take all your stuff with you, but that too is overkill if all you intend to do is the work that can be done on a slate device.
It was 2007 when I first told people to expect what we’re now calling “Windows 8” to be launched in 2012. More specifically the slides said “Point release” – Windows Server 2008 R2 [And client Windows 7] – after 2 years, major release after 3 more. The first part of that came true and the second hasn’t been un-said so I laugh when I hear“late 2012” quoted as news. Developers should get the OS a year before shipping so after the Professional Developers conference late in 2011 we’ll know if things are on course. I’ve seen suggestions that Windows 8 will break cover, on a slate, at CES in January 2011 – but anything beyond “let’s show you some ideas we’re working on” would surprise me. When it appears, if there is nothing to make it a better slate platform, then everyone will be surprised. I’ll be interested to see if there is a break from the past Pen-Based tablets. Handwriting input failed on the Apple Newton, it failed on the Pocket PC (I found it worked OK, but no-one took to it), we may be approaching the moment to call time on handwriting input for PCs as well.
Just as an aside, I wish Microsoft would do two things to make “instant on” a non issue. First the video below shows unmodified Windows 7 can boot from cold in 10 seconds, when freed from a legacy bios. I’d tell OEMs now that computers with legacy BIOSes won’t get a Windows 8 logo
Secondly, what is the point of a start menu action “Reboot, cutting the power at half way”. Because this action is labelled “Shutdown” and millions of people think that Shutting down is the right thing to do. Millions of hours get wasted each year through unnecessary reboots, if Microsoft cut the to options “Sleep” , “Deep Sleep” and “Reload Windows”, a lot of people will cease to care about boot time.
Other people are lining up a bigger task for the Windows team, getting Windows on a long-life slate by porting it to the ARM processor. That’s the wrong answer. Drivers can’t be CPU independent, applications can in theory but many aren’t are in practice. (The iPad gets criticised for lacking support for flash, but Adobe still don’t have an X64 bit Windows Flash player, so how long would an ARM one take ? ). If Windows-on-ARM can’t pick up all the stuff from Windows-on-X86 then it is a new platform, and wouldn’t a new platform for mobile devices be better off not starting with 25 years worth of baggage from Windows (we accept that on X86/X64 PCs because without it we don’t get access to all our stuff).
Microsoft have supported the ARM processors for a over a decade on Mobile devices and both Windows Phone 7 and Zune devices use it. Embedded Compact 7 – the latest incarnation of of Windows CE for Mobile devices was announced earlier this year but devices using it have huge rarity value. There is confusion whether these bits underpin Windows phone 7, but there is a standard .NET way of asking what the underlying OS is: on a Windows PC the easiest way to use it is from Powershell
Platform ServicePack Version VersionString
-------- ----------- ------- -------------
Win32NT 6.1.7600.0 Microsoft Windows NT 6.1.7600.0
So I wrote a little code to test this on the phone emulator.
OperatingSystem myos = System.Environment.OSVersion;
OSPlatform.Text = myos.Platform.ToString();
OSVersion.Text = myos.Version.ToString();
OSString.Text = myos.ToString();
Firmware.Text = Microsoft.Phone.Info.DeviceExtendedProperties.GetValue("DeviceFirmwareVersion").ToString();
and here is the result.
It doesn’t call itself “Windows Phone” but Windows CE and is quite clear the it is V7 of CE – it seems that Microsoft producing an OS for ARM based slates running with something as close as possible to Windows Phone 7 and/or Zune HD is both practical and sensible.
Do slates actually matter ?
I mentioned Mark at the start his post started with a view of someone else’s that “the consensus [at a Gartner symposium] is the iPad is either a consumer product or an executive toy” which he disagreed with. Mark takes a more rounded view than just the iPad and quotes Forrester estimating that tablets will account for 20% of PC sales by 2015. It’s not clear if that is saying 1 in 5 new PCs will be tablet PCs (running Windows 8.1 by that point) or if One in 4 PC users will also have a slate device running Windows CE/iOS / Android.
He also quotes a different analyst’s forecast that of 48 Million iPad sales by 2014. Against an installed base of something like a billion PCs it’s tiny. (It also suggests that there’s not much consensus between analysts, but that’s not news). Apple’s shinny products have made it the darling of Wall Street; Apples Market value is 20 times its profits, Microsoft’s 12 times , if Microsoft halved that gap, its shareholders would have a heck of a reason to be cheerful.
But will emerging devices have much a role in corporate IT ? Mark has a wonderfully utopian vision
“What will change (and is changing already) is the type of device that is used to access the desktop. Rather than taking a notebook PC from place to place in the device-centric manner that we do today, enterprises will adapt to human-centric computing models, with end users increasingly accessing their desktop from a variety of devices – perhaps starting out with a smartphone on the way to work; switching to a hosted virtual desktop in the office; using a tablet during meetings; and perhaps using the family PC to finish up some work at home in the evening, with local desktop virtualisation opening up new options for secure computing away from the corporate network”
Truly, I wish I could share this vision. The idea of “Bring your own computer”, which Mark also talks about, is easy to implement with PCs: acquire a PC connect to the network, install a corporate image, and you have a managed PC in a known state with all your software. How many organizations have got the IT department out of the process ? It’s rare bordering on unheard of. Organisations do allow mail on user phones, but extending that to Bring-your-own-Mac, or Linux PC or even a Windows PC running the newer Windows and Office you use at home (never mind embedded devices) requires a revolution, but talking about that will have to wait for another day.