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Why Windows 10 on Raspberry Pi 2? Upton: 'I drank the Kool-Aid'

Raspberry Pi and Microsoft love-in to support latest Pi venture

Raspberry Pi 2

Interview Today Microsoft and the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced that Windows 10 will run on the new Raspberry Pi 2. But why? The Register spoke to Pi founder and CEO Eben Upton.

“We’ve had people queuing up and saying they want Windows, the whole time,” says Upton. “I think there’s a sense that 'you’re a real PC' if you run Windows.”

Porting Windows is now possible because of Microsoft’s work on Windows RT for devices like the original Surface, which runs ARMv7. Previous models of the Pi run ARMv6, but the quad-core Cortex-A7-powered Pi 2 is also ARMv7.

“It’s two versions of the ARM instruction set and architecture,” says Upton. “There hasn’t been Windows for ARM v6 for a very long time. There was no real appetite to port the Windows kernel to a whole new architecture just to get Raspberry Pi.

“In terms of whether we approached Microsoft, or Microsoft approached us, I don’t think it was either, I think it was a conversation in a bar,” he adds. “We’ve had a very good relationship with them for a long time, and it was just, we can do this now with ARM v7, let’s do it.”

“What we’re talking about here is Windows 10 for IoT [Internet of Things]; there hasn’t been a statement about capabilities,” Upton explains. “We’re not necessarily talking about PowerPoint or the Windows desktop. Microsoft will make a statement on what exact capabilities they plan to bring to the device fairly soon.”

The big thing for me is to have an environment where people can do the write once, run anywhere thing, write something that will run on a Surface, on a Raspberry Pi, and on a mobile phone.

Cross-device compatibility will be there thanks to Microsoft's "Universal App" strategy, based on the Windows Runtime platform (once known as Metro. Although the desktop might not be available, the Windows build will support visual applications. “It is a headed device, HDMI primarily at the moment but then LCD panels in due course.”

But why bother with Windows? What can you do that you cannot do with Linux?

“Microsoft has a really good clue about cloud integration. There’s a great story about Azure, and about data integration between IoT devices and Azure,” enthuses Upton. “I think they’ve got a pretty compelling security story as well. As a child of the 1990s it feels funny to talk about this as being a security play, but there was that moment where Microsoft woke up and really started taking it seriously, examining the code base for security vulnerabilities. Their feeling is that they have the most secure operating system to build IoT applications. I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong.

“There’s familiarity with the APIs,” he adds. “None of these ARM platforms offer Win32 but they do offer the new Windows world.

“Visual Studio is the other big thing. There’s good tooling, because they have the mindset of Raspberry Pi as a device that you deploy to, rather than Raspberry Pi as a standalone computer. There is nothing to touch Visual Studio. Having Visual Studio as the development platform for appliance-like use of Raspberry Pi is really cool.”

Will Windows on Pi appeal more to industrial and business users, or hobbyists?

“It’s a maker pro kind of thing,” says Upton. "People see Raspberry Pi as essential to enabling the growth of that maker pro world. The pitch from Microsoft is they’ve got great tooling to get it started and then they’ve got a trajectory with the Azure stuff that means you’re not going to end up reinventing the wheel, probably insecurely … I’ve drunk an enormous amount of Kool-Aid by the sounds of it.”

Upton will be at Microsoft’s Build conference in early April, as well as WinHEC (Hardware Engineering Conference) in Schenzen mid-March, evangelising Raspberry Pi to developers.

Windows builds for Raspberry Pi 2 will be publicly available soon, says Upton, but it is over to Microsoft for the timing. Would-be developers can sign up here. ®

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