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Windows 8 Secrets: Understanding WOA

Sometimes, even the simplest of generalities makes sense. The trouble is, in our search for higher meaning, we often overlook the most obvious truths of all.

With that in mind, I wanted to step back for a second, stop trying to read between the lines of Microsoft's obtuse public declarations, and think about what it is that the software giant is really doing with Windows on ARM, or WOA.

(Not clear on the recent WOA revelations? Check out my article, WOA! Windows 8 on ARM Revealed, for the details.)

And really, it's very simple: WOA is for consumers and x86/x64-based PCs are for business.

Now, chances are, you're thinking one of two things. The first goes something like, duh Paul, obviously. The second one involves poking holes in this statement as is finding a loophole will somehow disprove the rule.

But don't be pedantic. And while I realize this doesn't make for much of an epiphany, it really is that simple.

As you know, Microsoft will have two different user experiences in Windows 8, the new Metro-style UI that's defined by WinRT, the Start screen, and Metro style apps, and the classic Windows desktop, with its Win32-based Explorer applications. These user experiences are discrete and different, and moving between them is jarring. There's no seamless integration between them either: You can't, for example, take advantage of WinRT Contracts from a classic desktop application. They're essentially two separate environments, to the user.

So with a WOA-based device, the primary user experience is going to be Metro, with its friendly and simple touch-first UI. The desktop will be secondary and used less frequently. You know, in general.

With an x86/x64-based PC, the general overall experience will be reversed: Mostly the desktop, with just some Metro. That may change over time, and there are always exceptions--and edge cases, like desktop PCs with touch screens--but stay on target, people. We're speaking generally here.

And let's be clear, WOA-based devices are indeed devices. They're designed as sealed environments, with third party desktop application development and deployment purposefully prevented so as not to muddy the waters. If you as a developer wants to target this new generation of devices, you need to go Metro. Period. If you as a user want to find and buy new apps, you go to the Windows Store. And you get Metro apps.

There will be exceptions from a usage perspective, like the WOA slate devices that come with clip-on keyboards or hybrid laptops with flip-around screens. But the people who use such devices are as versatile as are these types of devices. That is, few people are really just a consumer or just a business user. Instead, we move in and out of these personas over the course of the day. So will such devices.

For consuming entertainment, light web browsing, email, and Facebook interaction, a slate-type WOA device will be just fine. And yes, that's enough even for some people in a work environment. But for much actual work, including content creation, a keyboard and precision pointing device (mouse/keyboard) will be required. Need a legacy Windows application? You need a real PC, not a WOA device.

Metro targets the consumer end nicely, and we already know that the classic desktop works well for business/content creation use. There will be pure WOA devices, with no keyboard or mouse. There will be WOA devices with clip-on or Bluetooth accessories. There will be laptops and desktops with touch screens. System on a Chip (SoC) designs based on Intel platforms. All kinds of things that hit the gray areas. I get it.

But speaking generally, those devices that expand beyond what I call a pure WOA device (i.e. thin and light slates) aren't devices anymore, they're PCs. And when you use a device like that, your use of traditional desktop applications will likely increase. When you don't, when you just use a WOA slate as you would an iPad, it's just a device, and you will stick largely to Metro.

If I could head off into speculation land a bit, I think one could make a case for Microsoft branding its WOA-based systems as being some form of Windows Home Edition while its x86/x64-based offering could be in the Professional Edition camp (or whatever).  This not only ties nicely into long-running branding norms for Windows, but it also neatly differentiates the two versions. You want to work? You can sort of do it with Home Edition, sure, but if you're serious, you're really going to want to go with Professional.

Consumer vs. work. Home vs. business. Consumption vs. content creation. However you break it down, the message is still the same. WOA is for the former, and x86/x64 PCs are for the latter. Again, generally speaking.

I know, I know. It's almost too simple. But sometimes it's better not to overthink things.

WOA is for consumers and x86/x64-based PCs are for business.


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