5 moves Microsoft must make to advance in mobile

24 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple’s new MacBook Pro and Air models don’t support Windows 7 in Boot Camp.

UEFI is a more modern replacement for the traditional BIOS that earlier PCs used to start up, and Secure Boot is intended to lock out low-level malware that might try to infect the boot process.

According to Apple’s support documentation, Boot Camp only supports Windows 8 and 8.1 on the new devices; however, official Windows 10 support will likely roll out later in 2015. The arrival of UEFI caused some anxiety in the Linux community a few years ago, as it could have shut out alternative operating systems that didn’t work with the new technology. Install the tools; both Visual Studio 2015 CTP6 and the Tools for Windows 10 Technical Preview, which includes the SDK, are required when developing for the Windows Universal App Platform. (To install the .iso file, download the files, right-click the local copy, and then select Mount.) In addition to software, Microsoft has also released hardware tools. But in the end, Microsoft provided a workaround: PC vendors had to provide a way to turn off UEFI secure boot (at least for x86-based machines), essentially letting users manually unlock the door and install whatever they wanted.

The story behind the story: Apple hasn’t officially said if the lack of Windows 7 support for Boot Camp is the new normal going forward, but it seems likely. And Microsoft is giving PC manufacturers the option to lock down their hardware and prevent Linux installations—or for that matter any experimental OS. In January, Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7, meaning the OS will only receive security updates for the next five years, and retail disc sales for Windows 7 ended in late 2013.

But given that the current Windows secure boot mechanism isn’t attack-proof, it’s not surprising that Microsoft would look to lock things down further. For developers with an existing Windows 8.1 app, you can quickly try this one out by (a) removing one of your UI projects (and going from three Visual Studio projects to one!) and (b) add the improved ViewStateManager to control how your UI adapts at runtime. User controls: A number of our Windows 10 UI controls will determine, at runtime, how the customer is interacting with your app and render the appropriate user experience (e.g. on a laptop with a touch-screen, an app fly-out control will provide larger touch-targets if tapped with touch, as opposed to clicked with a mouse). Larger distributions such as Ubuntu already include their own tools to work with UEFI, and the Linux Foundation has been working with Microsoft on a secure boot loader that works with independent distributions.

API contracts: With Windows 10, you can directly verify if a Windows feature is available rather than inferring based on the operating system version. If you build your own desktop PC, none of this will affect you, as motherboard manufacturers will almost certainly leave the security switch that lets you install alternative OSes intact.

A good API contract for you to try out in your code to see this in action is HardwareButtons, which is present on phones (via the Mobile Extensions SDK), and thus available on the phone and mobile emulator but not available on the desktop. Having the potential freedom to install other OSes doesn’t make a computer more difficult to use in its default mode, and having a security switch which can be disabled by knowledgable users doesn’t make a PC, by default, less secure. Microsoft last year showed off how the same hardware can run Android and Windows Phone, and we’ve seen both HTC and Alcatel devices offered with different OS options on the same hardware.

And if you have a problem with my wanting to run both Mac OS and the superior Windows 7 versions of both Microsoft Excel and utilities like FastStone Image Viewer, then you need to check your fanboy/girlism. Locking out competing OSes and “old” OSes is all part of the decade-long shift towards making computing devices less upgradeable, to advance planned obsolescence and force you to buy new machines more often. But Apple’s decision to withdraw Boot Camp support just highlights the total consumer failure of Windows 8. (I just checked, and thank goodness, I was never on the Windows 8 bandwagon.) Windows 7 was awesome. But that’s becoming a smaller and smaller group of people, and it leaves out the growing crowd who want mobile, portable or handheld computing experiences. According to Microsoft, these owners of “non-genuine PCs” will “not be supported by Microsoft or a trusted partner,” which raises as many questions as it answers.

Microsoft probably wants to tacitly let home users and people in China pirate Windows, while retaining the ability to deliver slaps on the wrist to Western companies running thousands of pirated copies. If you look at the universe of consumer computing operating systems, across PCs, phones, and tablets, Microsoft is the only one that charges end-users money for the pure software product any more. Apple has been doing free OS upgrades since 2013, and since you can only run Mac OS on computers that already come with a Mac OS license (without doing crazy Hackintosh gyrations), piracy’s never been a major problem for them. Look at these Gartner numbers: PC sales have been flat for the past two years at about 316 million, while more than 2 billion tablets and mobile phones will fall into people’s hands this year.

As I’ve said a bunch of times, Microsoft has had the potential to leverage Windows and Xbox integration to improve its position in mobile for several years now.

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