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Windows 8 marks the beginning of the new WinRT (Windows Runtime) computing era and the beginning of the end of the WinNT, says market analyst Gartner. The combination of the WinRT programming model, a new user interface and legacy WinNT support, will allow users to continue using Win32 programs alongside WinRT apps.


Windows Runtime is designed to keep Microsoft relevant in a future that will be dominated by mobile devices. Microsoft will position WinRT as its strategic platform for new development, but most users will continue to run Win32 apps. "Windows 8 is the start of Microsoft's effort to respond to market demands and competitors, as it provides a common interface and programming API set from phones to servers. It is the beginning of the end of Win32 apps on the desktop," says Michael Silver, vice president, Gartner.


"Microsoft will continue to support Win32, but it will request developers to write engaging applications using WinRT." Gartner expects the Windows Desktop and legacy Windows applications will decline in importance in future Windows client releases. Metro is a new interface model that will lock organizations into the next generation of Windows. However, enterprises will take years to move their applications to the new model, and it will take at least five years for significant traction of Metro-style apps to pervade all areas of user-facing enterprise apps.

Organizations planning to develop new Win32 applications should switch to Metro for all new user-facing applications beginning in 2013 and should focus on external apps first and internal apps later. "Windows 8 is more than a major upgrade to Windows. It is a technology shift. We don't see this too often; the only other one Microsoft's client OS has gone through was the move from DOS technology to Windows NT technology, ending with the introduction of Windows XP in 2001," says Steve Kleynhans, vice president for client and mobile computing.

While the software giant is not forcing anyone to eliminate Win32 applications or preventing developers from writing them, Gartner believes Win32 and the Windows Desktop will become less strategic over time. Most business users who adopt Windows 8 through to 2015 will spend most of their time in the desktop running Win32 applications and the desktop browser. However, by 2020, analysts believe enterprise end users will spend less than 10% of their time in Win32 applications.


Most applications (including OS-neutral ones) and the browser will be run from Metro. Eventually, most Win32 desktop applications are likely to be run using server-based computing (SBC) or from hosted virtual desktops. "The user computing world is changing. PCs, although still critical components of the computing landscape, are no longer the only devices for delivering services and applications to users. Smartphones and tablets are fulfilling the role of the primary device for an increasing group of users, and most of these devices are from vendors other than Microsoft," says Kleynhans.


"In this environment, Microsoft needs to move to a platform that enables a new type of application, and embraces new types of user experiences. Microsoft is responding to competitive pressures that have made it rethink not only how its products should look, but also how they should be architected for security and manageability."

Microsoft still has a substantial user base running Windows XP and Win32 applications today. The challenge it faces is convincing organisations to migrate from stable proven applications, which work as designed. For organisations with a growing mobile workforce the decision to migrate is much easier, since legacy applications don't translate well on mobile processor such as ARM architecture.

With support for Windows XP extended to April 2014, Microsoft will be hoping that while still supporting Win32 apps using virtualisation or SBC techniques, it is providing a clear migration path for legacy users, something which perhaps wasn't so apparent with Windows 7. In order for this to occur, the next generation applications developed in WinRT will have to run smarter and faster to convince legacy customers to migrate, mobility may not be enough on its own.

By Angela Sutherland

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