Windows on ARM May Not Be What Many Enterprises Expect

G00232132

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Summary

Enterprises awaiting Windows 8 tablets with ARM processors will find good and bad news in the latest details from Microsoft. The tablets will have many iPad- and Android-like features, but legacy Windows applications won't run on them.

News Analysis

Event

On 9 February 2012, Microsoft provided new details about Windows 8 running on ARM processors in a blog post by Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky . This new information reveals that Windows on ARM (WOA) devices will not be able to run legacy Windows applications, and users will only be able to install and manage Metro applications on WOA devices. WOA devices will include full-featured versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote designed for touch interaction and low power consumption, and a full set of class drivers that allow them to connect to many existing peripheral devices.

Analysis

Many organizations have been expecting Windows 8 tablets to fit neatly into their existing Windows application, management and security infrastructures. An ARM-based version was assumed to offer the best hope for a tablet solution with long battery life (about 10 hours), slenderness and light weight, while fitting into that infrastructure. However, based on the limited details Microsoft has provided, we believe WOA tablets won't fit into existing PC infrastructures so seamlessly.

Microsoft stated that the only Windows applications that will be able to be run on WOA are the Office and Windows components included by Microsoft (such as Internet Explorer and Notepad) in the base build. No other Windows applications may be added, even if recompiled for ARM. It also appears that WOA will be a closed system that won't accommodate systemwide extensions like those used to manage and secure PCs. Thus, as with iOS and Android tablets, WOA tablets will need new applications and likely different management and security products than those of PCs and future x86-based Windows 8 tablets. X86-based Windows 8 tablets could meet organizations’ needs for size, weight and battery life, but these characteristics will not be known until devices are unveiled.

Microsoft realized it would have to make tradeoffs to build a media tablet to compete with iPads and other devices. Most legacy Windows applications aren't written with low power usage in mind, and when users can install any application they want, systems are less stable and more complicated to use and manage. Microsoft cannot risk producing a device that will not compete well with the iPad, so it is designing one that provides functions more similar to an iPad than to a PC.

Whether WOA devices will appeal to enterprises is questionable. Microsoft hasn't stated whether WOA builds will include Windows Professional features like domain join and participation in group policy objects, or if it will be more akin to Home versions of Windows. If the latter is true, WOA will likely be a mostly consumer-grade product with limited appeal to enterprises.

Against the iPad, Microsoft must compete based on price, the app store and great marketing to see significant WOA adoption. Including Office is an inexpensive way for Microsoft to boost the device's value and give it more PC-like capabilities as it competes against the iPad.

Recommendations

  • Organizations requiring features commonly found in media tablets (such as long battery life, instant-on startup, thinness and light weight): Consider adopting WOA tablets and replacing existing Windows applications with new Metro ones, wait to see specifications of x86 Windows 8 tablets, or look at devices based on iOS or Android.

  • Organizations considering WOA tablets: Recognize that these tablets probably won't integrate with most traditional PC applications, management tools and processes.

  • Organizations that require tablets to run legacy Windows applications: Expect to deploy x86-based Windows tablets.

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