What it is: Microsoft is porting Windows 10 from Intel x86 processors to ARM processors.
Microsoft is trying to keep Windows relevant for the future and that future involves mobile computing. While Intel processors dominate the desktop/laptop market, Intel processors failed in the mobile computing market. Intel once promoted their Atom processor that offered low energy usage in exchange for much slower performance. That tradeoff proved too much because Atom processors didn’t run Windows very well and didn’t conserve as much energy as ARM processors.
In the absence of low-energy x86 processors, Microsoft has tried porting Windows 10 to ARM processors, which are used in mobile computing devices from smartphones to tablets. The huge problem with doing this is that most Windows programs only run on x86 processors made by Intel or AMD.
Microsoft’s first attempt at getting Windows to run on ARM processors turned into a disaster called Windows RT. Windows RT looked like Windows but couldn’t run ordinary Windows programs, so it confused consumers and failed in the market. Now Microsoft is looking to port Windows 10 to ARM processors once again so that way Windows laptops can run much longer on a single battery charge, even up to an entire day.
That’s the dream. The reality is that Windows on ARM is loaded with limitations. Unlike Windows RT, Windows 10 on ARM processors will let you run ordinary Windows programs through emulation. The limitation is that it can only run older 32-bit programs and it can’t run all x86 programs. That means there’s a good chance someone will buy a Windows 10 ARM laptop and find that it doesn’t run their favorite Windows program without a lot of hassle. That’s a recipe for disaster as clear as the disaster that was Windows RT.
Will people accept these limitations of Windows 10 on ARM? Or will they simply ignore Windows 10 on ARM laptops and buy ordinary Windows laptops instead? The easier solution is to just buy an ordinary laptop and deal with lower battery life in exchange for full compatibility with Windows programs. The alternative is to accept longer battery life in exchange for partial compatibility with Windows programs. When companies advertise Windows 10 on ARM, the expectation is that if it’s Windows 10, it must be able to run Windows 10 programs, yet that won’t be true. That sets up Windows 10 on ARM as another disaster as consumers get confused and frustrated.
Microsoft needs to stop trying to shoe horn Windows everywhere and create a products that are optimized to work with minimal frustration. Windows 10 on ARM is simply a last ditch effort to keep Windows relevant. It probably won’t work. In the meantime, people will simply stick with Windows on x86 processors made by Intel or AMD, switch to Linux, or switch to the Macintosh. Windows 10 on ARM processors is just another example of a lot of effort that creates a partial solution that ultimately pleases nobody.
Consumers don’t want to figure out if something will work or not. Consumers want predictability and reliability, and that’s what Windows 10 on ARM fails to deliver.