Photo EXIF evidence points to Windows on ARM before iPad release

Turns out Microsoft has been working on Windows on ARM for a while, quite a while in fact.

In Steven Sinofsky’s thesis of Windows on ARM (generically dubbed WOA) published on the Building Windows 8 blog today, two photographs of an early development build of Windows running on prototype ARM hardware dates the effort to as far back as 22 January 2010, almost a week before iPad’s announcement on the 27th.

Although Microsoft waited almost a year later to reveal WOA for the first time in public at a CES 2011 press conference, it’s now clear Microsoft too had future bets on an ARM-based ecosystem even before the iPad began selling and ARM took the spotlight for tablet devices.

As one might gather from Steven’s insight into the ARM development process, it became a lot more complicated to optimize the Windows experience on ARM than just porting all the code from one architecture than another. I think the dated photographs also reaffirm just how big of an investment this has been already with two years of development already in the bag.

Although no one can deny the influence the iPad has had and continues to have on Windows, Windows 8 is looking to level the playing field on ARM hardware with a vengeance. It’s safe to say WOA is not a knee-jerk reaction to the iPad, but a strategic move planned much earlier. But of course like most things Microsoft, with a longer lead time to market.

27 insightful thoughts

  1. You talk about there being a “longer lead time” but that is something we can’t know for sure unless we know how long the iPad was in development.

    I have heard it said that the iPhone was esentially the iPad R&D product so you could argue that the iPad was being worked on for at least 3-4 years. Probably more.

    I certainly found it interesting that the watermark on those screen shots shows it was a “Windows 7″ build.

    1. Windows 8 was probably started with Windows 7 code then later updated to be built on top of Windows Server 2008 R2. These are early screenshots so this isn’t unusual. Of course I’m sure you already knew that.

      1. That is incorrect. Ofcourse Windows 8 is based on Windows 7, just like Windows 7 is based on Vista and before that it was Windows 2003 then XP and so on. Also to point out that Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2 have the same code base. The consumer and server line kernels/codebase have been in sync since Windows Vista.

    2. I believe he was talking about whether or WOA was created to compete with the iPad, not whether or not its older. If it was developed before the iPad was announced, than how could they even know about the iPad, let alone decide to compete against it?

  2. WOA is certainly a significant financial investment. Like the previous commeter said, the iPad was in development way earlier, and MS would certainly have known about it through various channels. Best case scenario for MS would be somehow Intel would crank out a low-powered chip, but that didn’t happen.

    I wouldn’t say MS reacted, but seeing how late they are to the phone & tablet games, I’d say someone was sleeping at the wheel in Redmond

  3. For me, I have always chosen and preferred the Windows platform over anything Apple offers because of the versatility and choice of everything from hardware to software to the OS configurability. Apple’s products offer too little choice for me. So it doesn’t matter so much if Windows 8 is late if it’s going to offer a better tablet product over the iPad with the same great battery and touch-optimized UI. The problem is with having the desktop suffer due to Metro also being available on it. WOA should have been the only Windows 8 edition for tablets and Metro shouldn’t have been available on x86 – only the desktop side improvements in Windows 8 are good enough. Now WinRT/Metro will compete with and try to kill desktop side ecosystem. I would most definitely buy a tablet, if I were to choose just one platform (I am forced to make this decision because of Microsoft’s WOA licensing which will disallow installing WOA for example on an iPad), I would still go with Windows 8 on ARM over anything else. However, if you are satisfied with what Metro style apps offer on the desktop, it means you are not an advanced user with that many professional requirements from software which only desktop apps can give you. And by buying and using Metro style apps on x86, you are helping to slowly kill the desktop. By developing Metro-style only apps, you are again helping to kill the desktop.

  4. It is a little known fact that even before this date, TI (Texas Instruments) worked with Microsoft to have the Windows platform running on an OMAP/ARM platform. You won’t find many people knowning this fact unless they worked on or were close to the project.

  5. If by “level the playing field”, you mean “have about as much effect as Windows has had on any non-PC market”, which is “a fart in the wind”, you’re probably correct. I’d be surprised if there’s any impact whatsoever.

  6. Just lovely, lovely. I haven’t seen this much propaganda since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989! I’m setting up a petition soon in favour of rebuilding the Berlin Wall! Who here will sign my petition? >=D

  7. While I have no doubts that WOA has been in the pipes for years already, I’m taking this whole EXIF thing with a grain of salt. People are always pointing to EXIF data as incontrovertible proof where if I leave the batteries out of my camera for a month or so before replacing them, all the pictures it takes are dated 2004 until I manually go into the menu and set the correct date.

  8. Just to point out that you can argue Microsoft has been planning on ARM for years since Windows CE can run on ARM. This here is nothing new other than the fact they have been working on a mainline Windows build for 2 years.

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