Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

So, last month it was in the news that Microsoft is bringing the full Windows desktop experience to ARM chips through an x86 emulation layer. Well, there’s some vagueness around “full” as yet, but here’s why I find this hugely exciting.

Not too long ago, our mammoth PCs and laptops were the center of the universe. Our Palm Pilots and other mobile devices synced with them. A bit more recently, we shifted to making “the cloud” our data hub, syncing everything with it. This put our laptops and mobile phones on a more level playing field. But what Microsoft is now teasing is the third evolution.

We won’t have mobile phones anymore. We’ll have pocket computers. And they won’t be limited, dumbed-down devices; they’ll be fully functional computers capable of running every application we might need them to. We’ll dock them with a large screen in the office (something Microsoft and Motorola have already explored), connect them to a mid-sized screen for serious in-the-field work, and use their own small screen for everyday mobile use. Applications will dynamically adapt for the screen we’re using at the moment. Eventually, we may be able to “dock” to a RAM expansion module, for example, for when we’ve got serious work to do, or connect to an external GPU or other processing boost as needed.

And nearly all of this technology already exists. 

Microsoft is superbly positioned to re-sieze the market, given their dominance in the desktop space. If you could suddenly carry all of your LOB apps around with you – no more syncing, because you’d only have that once device – it’d be a game-changer.

Now… what about the standard BYOD problems? Well, Microsoft is well positioned there, too. Who’s to say your device can’t simply run two VMs? One is your “work VM” and the other your “personal VM,” and whichever one isn’t in use right now simply isn’t allocated any RAM or CPU resources. Again – this can exist today if we wanted it to, it’s just a matter of getting a good user experience on top of it. Work can control the “work VM” on your One Device, encrypting it and wiping it as desired – without affecting your “personal VM” and its applications and data.

There are two companies positioned to pursue this model: Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft now effectively has one OS for every device, meaning they can now let us just use one device (aside from edge cases that demand a different compute platform, like serious gaming, hardcore CAD/CAM work, etc). Apple doesn’t exactly have one OS, but they’re not very far from it, and they’ve already started iOS developers on the path of dynamic app displays to accommodate different screen sizes. Google, notably, is not as well positioned, because Linux (Android) has never had the massive penetration at the desktop of Windows or Mac. Google’s response, ChromeOS, is still lightweight and somewhat niche; you’re not going to run Photoshop or a lot of non-Web-based LOB apps on it. Google has further to come to get to the “one device for all situations” world.

Anyway… it remains, for me, an incredibly exciting and innovative time. I can’t wait to see what Microsoft (and Apple, and even Google) do next.

3 thoughts on “Why the New Windows Phone Excites Me, Conceptually

  1. sumdog says:

    Microsoft killed off a gap product that would have kept them in the iPad market: the Courier Tablet. They had this device QA/production ready to let these things go. They killed the entire line because they wanted that unified experience of Windows 8. We all know how that turned out.

    The tiles / win mobile style apps are failing and many devs have pulled them from the Windows Store. Some like Dropbox never released them at all. (No mobile app and the Win 8/10 desktop app was pretty terrible).

    I like your optimism, and maybe there will be a come back. I had a Win mobile device for a brief period and though it was an okay OS, but no apps that I really needed were available for it.

    Also to nitpick: Android isn’t Linux. It might use the Linux kernel, but its display layer, app layer, mounter, security profile and everything in-between is very non Linux in every way possible.

    Because it runs a Linux kernel is how the Ubuntu Touch OS was going to provide that seamless integration: run Wayland or X when you connected the dock and start a Linux system. You then have daemons that sync Thunderbird and a custom Android mail, Calendar, etc.

    I really wish the Ubuntu Edge had gotten funded. We might be in a very different world. Right now, I’m sick of Android’s terrible update/security update model and I’m not a big Apple fan either. There are no good options.

    I hope MS does pull off resurrecting their phones in the way you describe, because at the very least we can have a standard phone hardware system we can try to port Linux too instead of Google/Android’s entirely broken system of hacked together non-upstreamable kernels that are totally different for every single device.

    1. Justin King says:

      You are missing a key point: if the windows phone can run full blown desktop apps the limited app store is a non-factor. So we aren’t talking about mobile devs pulling their mobile apps … Don is talking about the mobile app store silos suddenly becoming short-lived stop gaps instead (which was really bound to happen). Full blown legacy apps can play form your pocket computer, and anything not graphic intensive can be delivered “server-less” and HTML5 based.

      As for Linux not being Android … so what? That’s like me saying “PC doesn’t mean windows, it means personal computer and could be hosting any OS”. literally true but … it adds nothing to the conversation.

      1. sumdog says:

        You make a valid point with the legacy apps. Still they will not “run from your pocket.” They’ll only run when you dock in desktop mode (most likely?) unless the authors modify them for mobile use. I agree the transition could be easier/more natural if these devices make it to market and you might see more developers supporting them.

        As for your second point, I don’t think you understand the issues with Android. A PC lets you run Windows, Linux or anything that supports the PC platform. It guarantees that you an 8259 Interrupt controller (PIC), a programmable interrupt timer, a UART I/O at a well known address, PS/2 input, VESA compatible VGA, a real time clock and an ISA bus. A Wonderswan as an x86 chip, but it’s not a PC. You can’t just run Linux on it. Same with a PS4. A PS4 is definitely not a PC and the Fail0verflow people have done a lot of patching to make Linux work on it.

        If Android were standardized, you could run AOSP on any phone, and then install drivers. Instead Android is a hacked together Linux kernel, that varies per phone, and is so poorly patched together per vendor that none of the vendors patches can be up-streamed to mainline Linux. They’re filled with tons of terrible binary blobs.

        Android breaks many of the core ideas about Linux and is not a contestant operating system, even across Google’s own hardware. It’s not really open source and there have been AOSP releases that don’t even build! The fact that Android is not really a Linux system and that ARM platforms are nothing like PCs are two of the primary reasons there is so much fragmentation.

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