Microsoft Windows 8

By | June 2, 2011

Not long after showing off the new Windows 8 touch interface at the D9 conference, Microsoft gave another demo at Computex in Taipei. Where the D9 demo had been about the software, and used regular Intel processors, the focus at Computex was on the hardware: Windows 8 was running on a range of system-on-chip (SoC) designs, including those with ARM processors.

Prototypes from three ARM partners, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and NVIDIA, in conjunction with system builders Wistron, Foxconn, and Quanta, were shown off. The Qualcomm and TI devices were both tablets, the NVIDIA device a conventional clamshell laptop. An AMD Llano-powered laptop was also on display, as was an Intel-powered system. The ARM units all billed as development devices rather than anything that will reach the market, but show that the software is running on ARM-powered machines, and looks identical to its x86 counterpart.

The company also disclosed some of the hardware constraints that Windows 8 tablets will have to follow. To get the new interface, tablets will have to offer a resolution of at least 1024×768. Anything lower and they will be stuck with a derivative of the classic Windows 7 shell. Increasing the resolution from the 4:3 1024×768 to the 16:9 1366×768 will additionally enable the “snap” side-by-side multitasking view that was demonstrated.

Mention was also made of boot performance; UEFI systems with SSDs were described as being able to fully boot, from cold shutdown to the Start screen, in under six seconds. Wake from sleep will be instant.

Microsoft also talked a little about the ARM version’s compatibility with Windows. ARM Windows won’t include an x86 emulator, and as such will not be able to run existing Windows programs. It is, however, the same operating system with the same APIs, meaning that it should be possible to recompile existing software and device drivers for ARM Windows with few difficulties. The same applications should, therefore, become available on both platforms, as should access to the same hardware.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is paying far more attention to the hardware, and providing far more guidance to hardware manufacturers. For example, the company has recommendations for how large to make the bezels on tablet computers to ensure that they’re comfortable to hold. Combined with restrictions on the number of devices that can be brought to market, the message seems clear: Microsoft would rather have a smaller number of best-of-breed devices than the same kind of free-for-all as exists in the world of conventional PCs.

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