FAQ: WOA vs. x86, which Windows tablet to pick?

Much depends on how 'free' Office apps will be on ARM-based tablets

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

In an interview, Hilwa added that since legacy Windows apps won't run on WOA, customers will need an incentive to move to ARM. Office would be that incentive.

Note: Microsoft did not respond to questions about whether Office 15 will be truly free.

If end users aren't paying for Office 15 apps in WOA, then manufacturers will likely be absorbing that cost, analysts said. Hilwa speculated that having tablet manufacturers cover the Office 15 licensing costs could be synonymous to Apple getting big up-front payments from wireless carriers for the right to sell and subsidize the cost of the iPhone.

"It's going to be fascinating to see how Microsoft monetizes the writing off of the revenue for those Office apps in WOA," Hilwa said.

Back to the hardware: Is ARM is really better, costs aside? Unknown. Gold said it remains to be seen how a WOA tablet will run video and other rich-media applications. But given how ARM has performed thus far in tablets and hundreds of millions of smartphones, it appears to be more power-efficient than what Intel has so far offered.

"WOA has got to run better than all the other tablets on the market, and that includes Android and iPad as they run in six to nine months from now," Gold said.

Even if the hardware's up to par, the fact that existing Windows apps won't run on WOA is a problem, right? No question about it. Companies that need legacy apps based on Windows won't be able to use them on WOA devices without retooling. That means development costs are involved.

"The major disadvantage in picking ARM on a Microsoft tablet would be that big businesses with lots of apps that run on Windows PCs today won't run [those apps] on WOA," Hilwa said. "The businesses can rewrite their apps for WOA, sure. But it's going to be a while before the app portfolio catches up. It gets really complicated."

Gold said some of the compatibility issues are still unknown. "Compatibility of apps with WOA will be the major issue for businesses," he said. "Any old apps running on Windows 7 probably will run on Windows 8 if it's an Intel machine, and probably won't if it's ARM-based. And many companies are still running Office 2007, which is unlikely to run on ARM."

So how do I decide between ARM-based devices and Intel? It boils down to how the tablet will be used, Gold said. "The fundamental question with WOA versus X86 is what does a business want to do with these tablets?"

If the WOA tablet really is cheaper and comes with free Office 15 apps, it could be quite attractive compared to an X86 tablet. In particular, WOA tablets could be popular among outdoor workers and companies seeking rugged, portable hardware because replacement costs could be kept low.

Gold said IT shops need to weigh whether their users are going to primarily generate data on tablets, as they do with traditional laptops, or will primarily use them as consumption devices to watch video and view corporate apps. The latter scenario, he said, would favor a WOA tablet.

"If you are trying to run real corporate applications in the cloud through Citrix, then the tablet can be just a glass window into your app," he said.

That puts the ball in the WOA court.

Still not convinced you know enough about the tablet choice at hand? Given that the devices won't ship until late this year anyway, you've got time to make up your mind -- as soon as Microsoft weighs in with more info.

Hello, Redmond?

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon