The fuss over Windows 8 may have died down since Microsoft previewed the future operating system last month, but many questions remain, such as how the platform will run on two different processor architectures, whether it will be backwards compatible, and even how developers are expected to build apps for the operating system.
Microsoft gave Windows 8 its first airings at Computex in Taiwan and the D9 conference in California, showing off a new-look user interface that appears very similar to the tile-based UI of Windows Phone 7.
The company promised that the new platform would scale from small devices with a touchscreen, to more conventional PC systems featuring a keyboard and mouse.
Microsoft has actually set itself a formidable task with Windows 8. The software is being styled as the company's answer to consumer tablet platforms such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android, while still keeping faith with the huge installed base of software and applications that have made Windows PCs the centre of the computing world for the best part of two decades.
As part of this plan, Microsoft has already stated that Windows 8 is being designed to run on ARM architecture chips, as well as the x86-based processors from Intel and AMD that power the majority of PCs.
Just how this will be implemented is something that Microsoft is not prepared to disclose right now, but it raises some interesting questions, such as whether the ARM and x86 versions will be based on the same code base, and how compatibility with existing Windows applications will be supported.
The problem Microsoft faces is that Windows on the PC has become bloated over time, partly because of the continuing need to support legacy applications. Windows 7 actually cut down on some of the bloat of Vista, but it still takes up multiple gigabytes of disk space once installed.
Windows 7 also calls for an absolute minimum of 1GB of RAM, but works much better with 2GB or 4GB. Windows also assumes that it has a large, fast hard disk that it can use for virtual memory, to swap multiple running applications in and out of RAM.
All of this stands in contrast to the world of ARM-based mobile devices, where memory space is often limited and the operating system and applications are optimised to conserve battery life.
If Microsoft was simply to port Windows to the ARM architecture, it would most likely perform poorly and have terrible battery life. In contrast, if the company creates a platform optimised to run on mobile hardware, it will break compatibility with the huge installed base of Windows applications.
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