Windows 9 : What to expect - 32-bit support , WinRT & XNA

4/3/2012 5:36:34 PM

Mary Branscombe looks beyond Windows 8 to see what Microsoft’s next OS might hold

Windows 8 is an impressive atteml)t by Microsoft to unify two trends — or straddle two stools, depending on how you look at it. By trying to make an OS for a continuum of devices from number-crunching workstations down to touch tablets, Microsoft is aiming for the best of both of today’s computing worlds. But what will those worlds look like in 2015, when Windows 9 is likely to come along, and what do the underlying trends in Windows 8 tell us about where Microsoft is going?

Description: Windows 9 - What to expect

32-bit support

The obvious question is whether Windows 9 will be 64- bit only (something Microsoft threatened before Windows 7 was complete), but that’s going to depend on what chips arc in PCs by then. ARM is 32-bit now, and even when 64-bit ARM chips come along, Microsoft may want compatibility with Windows S tablets. Although Intel is talking about 64-bit Atom systems, if netbooks are still popular there will be further pressure to support existing 32-bit PCs. It will be about how much compatibility Microsoft wants to offer — and that’s not just about the CPU.

Despite all the rumours of Silverlight’s death at the hands of web apps, the XAML interface language used by Silverlight and .NET apps is also at the heart of Metro apps, and is just as important as CSS, HTM L5 and JavaScript. The other Windows product that uses XAML is Windows Phone, and making an application run on Silverlight, Metro and Windows Phone is simply a matter of making a few changes to the code to tell it which system it runs on, and making sure the interface fits the screen size and the way people use it.

Metro apps already have to do some of that for ‘Windows 8, having both full-screen (VGA) and snap-size (XVGA) layouts, as well as portrait views.

Does it make sense for Microsoft to have two operating systems that support such similar programming models but don’t actually run the same app, especially when they both run on a 1GHz ARM processor?

At the Worldwide Partner Conference this year, Microsoft hinted that it would have a unified OS strategy. We don’t expect that Windows Phone and Windows 9 would have exactly the same interface, but if the trend of simplifying Windows and making Metro apps more important continues - especially on ARM tablets where you can’t run x86 apps that need full Windows compatibility - then Windows Phone and Windows 9 could be essentially the

same OS, with Metro’s W1nRT programming model giving apps ways to integrate features.


WinRT is a major cleanup for the way developers program Windows; instead of many different ways to do the same basic thing, there’s just one way- and it’s set up so that an app has only 5Oms to get something done before it has to switch to doing it in the background and wake up when that task is done.

The ways apps let you search, share and choose files to work with are controlled by “contracts” with the operating system, and we expect to see more of these emerge in the future, giving Windows more services that many different apps can use.

This is a major change for the way apps work - especially the way the OS can freeze an app when it’s not visible on screen- and it gives Microsoft much more control over performance and responsiveness in Windows, so we expect it to be more important in Windows 9.

WinRT also isolates the features used by developers far more from the underlying OS and the Windows kernel. If Microsoft wants to switch to a different kernel or change major pieces of the OS, it will be much easier if developers are using the new Win RT interfaces rather than messy old Win32 options.


If Windows 9 is the OS for Windows Phone, it would have to include the Xbox’s XNA (which is how high-performance games are written for Windows Phone). But as with Silverlight, making an XNA Xbox game run on Windows doesn’t mean changing a great deal of code.

We’ve even seen an Xbox Live tile on the Windows 8 Metro Start screen in a couple of presentations, which could mean XNA support coming to Windows even sooner.

We don’t see the Xhox going away — there’s no need to burden it with some of the drawbacks of Windows - hut under the covers, Microsoft could he using the same code that it already shares between WIndows client and Windows Server across its other two platforms as well.

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