So this Monday I caught a headline that stuck out like a sore thumb. Of course I’m just now getting around to writing about it, so I could be a little behind the curve, but it intrigued me enough to still blog about it despite the amount of time that has elapsed since the article.
So, from a 10,000 point of view it will help me to explain that, while most people know what a processor is, many consumers don’t realize how many different varieties of processors exist. Most desktop machines use a family of processor commonly known as “x86”. PCs and Macs alike use this variety of processor, and over the course of Microsoft’s history they have made the largest profit selling software to run on x86 machines.
However x86’s dominance as the de facto champion of all computing platforms has recently been challenged. Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, often favor alternatives that consume much less power than x86 units. One family of mobile-friendly processors that has emerged over the past decade is the ARM family of processors. With an increasing number of casual Internet users transitioning to using these mobile devices more frequently than their full size computers, it seems as though x86 could soon be relegated to only being used by computing professionals and hardcore gamers. Granted, that is still a long way off, but that’s my personal opinion on the way the market is headed. Take it for what you will.
Now, typically, software manufacturers that sell directly to consumers won’t care too much about on what platform their software is going to be executed. In fact, before Mac switched to Intel chips, it was not uncommon for manufacturers to produce a version of their software to run on the old Mac processors (PowerPC, if you care to know the name). Given the emergence of ARM, and the general diversification of the consumer device offerings, it isn’t surprising to hear that Microsoft is planning on producing ARM versions of their popular Windows Operating System. (In fact, they might do so already to be honest – I just don’t know.)
What is surprising is that it seems, according to ArsTechica, Microsoft is going to make it harder to install an Operating System other than Windows on ARM machines that ship with Windows pre-installed. They plan to do this by making their feature called SecureBoot mandatory for these machines. This strikes me as very, very peculiar. What raises my eyebrow even further is that they mandate that non-ARM machines must allow users to turn SecureBoot off.
I struggle to imagine the reasoning for this. Windows, as it exists now, wouldn’t make much sense as a mobile Operating System. There have for a long time been a mobile variants of the OS that they have used for mobile phones, but to the best of my knowledge they have never used full-on Windows in a mobile device.
There has been talk of ARM based economy PCs hitting the market, which is all well and good, but I’m beginning to suspect that – in spite of these new low power PCs coming out – Microsoft actually is planning to do something big with Windows on mobile because the people who buy economy PCs aren’t likely to hurt Microsoft’s market presence or revenue in the desktop arena. It’s not like they have an equivalent of Apple’s App Store that gives them continuous revenue.
However, if they were going to give a model like that a shot for their “big boy” operating system, they would be smart to do it in the Mobile arena first. And if they did do that, it would be on ARM chips, and a large number of people not using their Operating System would significantly hurt the viability of such a continuous revenue business model.
Additionally, this is a marked change from how Microsoft has operated in the past. It’s a very Apple-esque move in many ways.
Microsoft has talked before about trying to give a constant feel throughout their products. Indeed, the XBox dashboard now looks like an HD version of a Windows phone in some respects. It is reasonable to suspect that the next step in that endeavour is unifying their mobile and desktop Operating Systems, and attempting to build a continuous revenue model to capitalize on their users after they purchase the original product.
Whether or not that will actually happen is something only time will tell. For now, we just have to sit and wait. As always leave me some comment love below. I’d love to hear what you think.