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A de-parallel universe for Windows 10

A de-parallel universe for Windows 10
by Don Dingee on 10-03-2014 at 7:00 am

It was CES 2011 when Steve Ballmer sweatered up and pitched the coming universe according to Microsoft, where the same Windows base would run on everything – PC, phone, tablet, and game console. Getting from that visionary statement to Windows 10 hasn’t been a smooth ride.

First was the botched Windows RT for ARM tablets. It is hard to tell if that was a problem with the ARM-based Surface product, or with the skittish tablet ecosystem competing head on with Apple, or with the behavior of consumers. I think it was lousy timing of all three combined.

The most difficult for Microsoft to overcome was the consumer behavior. Surface looks too much like a 2-in-1 PC, and consumers expected – no, demanded – Windows app compatibility. The moderate success of the Surface Pro 3 is due to removing the yuck factor with limited app choice for Windows-on-ARM-tablets, the iPad zombie wave blowing by hardly noticing, and better hardware execution.

On a phone, it’s a different story. Very few people are asking for Excel on a phone; users are driven much more by social apps, all available on Windows Phone. The Microsoft Mobile Devices operation still kind of known as Nokia has been pretty quiet since the Microsoft logo was taped on the front door in April. If there is one thing a Lumia does well, it takes and shares selfies, and they have been keeping to themselves while the mothership gets its Windows act together.

Then there is Xbox. I think Satya Nadella saying Xbox “isn’t that far from the core” was cloaking. The move to AMD for Xbox One should have been a huge signal there was one uber Windows platform coming. Spending $2.5B on “Minecraft” had to set some kind of record for in-game purchases, and is another sign that the seamless experience from mobile to tablet to console/TV to PC is potentially worth a ton.

If Windows 10 can create the Continuum, that is. Now that the game console is on X86, the confusion seems to be how to merge the ARM-phone track and the Intel-PC track where they meet in the middle – the tablet. Right now, there is a smoking hole where Windows 9 probably was pre-Nadella, whisked away faster than Q disappearing from the bridge.

Microsoft announced a Technical Preview build of Windows 10 for PCs this week, but didn’t exactly say when the ARM version would appear during their launch event. Tweets this morning from Joe Belfiore confirm that Microsoft is trying to not hose up the enterprise launch again a la Windows 8, getting feedback from business users first. The ARM version of Windows 10 won’t materialize until sometime next year, and it may not be much more than Windows Phone 10.

I’m left wondering two things: if there ever will be an ARM-Windows tablet, and if there ever will be an Intel-Windows phone. Two enter, one leaves.

There was an interesting announcement last month with The Rajeev Suri Project (aka Nokia Networks, not part of Microsoft) teaming with Intel to develop what they refer to as “liquid applications” at the base station. These services would reduce network loading while delivering more capability to the phone app developer in dealing with the cloud. End-to-end services is carrying more and more weight these days.

The farther Intel pushes into 4G baseband chips, and next-gen integrated chips like Broxton and SoFIA, the more likely Microsoft is to jump off the ARM ship. They don’t have a choice for supporting Windows 10 on ARM phones, but there could be a huge statement not forthcoming on ARM tablets – followed by a bigger statement when a Nokia phone lands with Windows 10 and an Intel part.

Yeah, I did previously say carriers call the shots, and a phone maker choosing anything but Qualcomm has faced an uphill battle so far to get carrier airtime qualification. But, if your super cool LTE network powered by Nokia Networks basestations with all these fantastic services running on Intel processors and Windows 10 ties to capability in phones running on Intel basebands and processors and Windows 10 … you can see where this may go.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in an intergalactic shootout, Windows-on-ARM-tablets disintegrated after the first couple shots, and Windows-on-ARM-phones has limped around on impulse power at best. The option to jump to Intel chips for phones wasn’t realistic when this whole timeline started in 2011.

Microsoft is buying time to make repairs before the Windows 10 core comes online in 2015.

PS: no disclaimer, I own none of these stocks, and have no inside info.

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