Microsoft's Tablet Misstep: No Legacy Apps On ARM

When Windows 8 arrives it'll come in several flavors, supporting both Intel and ARM processors...but on ARM, no legacy code support will be possible. Microsoft may be shooting itself in the foot.

windowsWhen Windows 8 arrives it'll come in several flavors, supporting both Intel and ARM processors...but on ARM devices, no legacy code support will be possible. In doing this, Microsoft may be shooting itself in the foot, or at least messing with the reach it's hoping to achieve in the tablet market. One of the key attractions for new customers (their library of expensive software, and all the archived files they had stored) will be immediately inaccessible. 

Intel is the source of this latest news, via the firm's general manager of software and services Renée James, who spoke at Intel's investor's call yesterday. She revealed that among the manifold versions of Windows 8 we're expecting Microsoft to produce, there will be a "Windows 8 traditional" that'll run, as previous versions do, on Intel's x86 chip architecture and which will include a Windows 7 "mode" to run previously-released apps. But there'll also be a version of Windows 8 for ARM chips—and this will not contain code to enable previous apps to run. Microsoft is, in effect, resetting its code base for ARM-based tablets and smartphones. 

As James points out, "On ARM there'll be a new experience, which is very specifically around the mobile experience." James suggested it's a win-win for Intel, because its "competitors will not be running legacy applications. Not now. Not ever."

That may be true for Intel, but it highlights an obvious misstep by Microsoft. Why not include a crossover support framework in the ARM-based Windows 8? It's something that Apple did when it made a very similar switch-over between chip designs in its Macs years ago, moving from IBM PowerPC to Intel, and it allowed users who were invested in Apple's way of working and technology to keep their legacy investment. 

What's missing is the incentive for choosing a Windows-powered ARM-based tablet. Will users be seduced by Microsoft's front end alone? Or is MS counting on apps written for Windows 8 Intel units (which will presumably be cross-compatible) to attract new buyers? At best the situation is murky, with the news coming indirectly from Intel—but at worst it seems Microsoft is awkwardly trying to straddle a gaping chasm, and the upshot may not be ideal for end-users.

[Image: Flickr user microsoftsweden]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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