Windows is trying to escape the PC, again


The PC is Windows’ stronghold, and, despite predictions of its demise, the PC seems to be holding its own, thanks in part to some nice hardware designs coming out of Microsoft recently.

But a few projects that Microsoft has been working on recently also show how it wants a life for Windows beyond the classic PC.

One of these is the effort to get Windows 10 running on ARM. Running Windows on ARM chips – the same chips used to run smartphones – means that Windows could start appearing on small, lighter, always-on devices. The first hardware is expected later this year.

Another project that could still show promise is Continuum, which allows a Window Phone device like the Elite X3 to dock with a keyboard and monitor and perform like a PC.

And finally there is Windows 10 S – a locked-down version of Windows 10 that aims to compete with Chromebooks on ease of use.

All these projects are looking at slightly different things, but they are all linked in their goal to take Windows beyond its traditional PC – that is, desktop and laptop – territory.

Microsoft has been here before of course, the most recent attempts to get beyond the classic PC being Windows RT and Windows Mobile. Neither went well.

Released in October 2012, Windows RT was a stripped back version of Windows that ran on ARM chips and only worked with apps from the Windows Store, and first appeared Microsoft’s own Surface RT hardware.

But consumers didn’t really understand why they should buy an underpowered version of Windows and developers were reluctant to re-write their existing apps to run on ARM. In the end Microsoft had to take a $900m write-down on the Surface RT stock it couldn’t shift.

The story of Window Phone is slightly different to start with but has a similar ending: Microsoft bought Nokia’s smartphone business for 5.4bn in 2013, but struggled to compete with two huge and well-entrenched rivals in the form of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS