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Windows on ARM: leading from the rear

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Bespoke UI, or redesign of Win?

The UI issue is the bigger uncertainty. You'll note that while Apple retained much of the Mac OS X API for its iGadgets, it developed a completely new shell and UI framework. Microsoft hasn't said whether it too will develop a new shell and programming API specifically for these ARM mobile devices, or whether it will go for compatibility, and allow developers to port their apps more easily – perhaps kludging the UI elements – so you get the "old" style Win UI but with bigger buttons, for example. The lack of a definitive statement may be because Microsoft can't answer the first question – what we'll do with them – with any certainty.

Without doubt, Microsoft is much better at designing UIs than it was five or 10 years ago – competition from Apple and the Vista shambles has forced it to become more focused. Its Media Center and Windows Phone 7 are really quite well done. Microsoft appears to be working on something called Jupiter, which, according to Mary Jo Foley, appears to fit the bill.

It's a framework on top of Windows for "immersive apps", using an easy-to-learn declarative language XAML. But Jupiter appears to be some way from completion – and worse, since it's locked into the Intel Windows release schedule, it might be as much as two years away.

Apple's design approach is to go great lengths to disguise the fact that the iGadget is not a computer – it emphasises reliability and simplicity over sophistication and features. The iPad turns on and off reliably, and it does what it says on the tin. It doesn't care if it's a "cloud device" or not, in fact, you can't even get to the local file system without breaking the warranty. Yet the UI is a far more significant factor than the chip architecture or compatibility. That's why last week's news is a bit underwhelming.

Last week Microsoft should have led its announcements with the UI, and let everyone know that it has decoupled it from the Windows release schedule. And then let everyone know that it's not cutting the dependency on Intel's mobile chips. Where would the ARM be in that? ®

Bootnote: Note that I've tried very hard not to echo the most over-used phrase of the week: "full-blown" – as in "full-blown" Windows. This is because the phrase originates with the bloom of roses, and describes the ripeness of the flower. Whether Windows is ripe is one question, whether it's a rose is another. Safer avoided, we reckon.

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