Experiment 19: How Windows NT was streamlined for Windows Phone 8

Microsoft Research has published a few more details on their skunkworks project that commenced in 2008 to bring the Windows NT core to ARM. Better still this goes on to show that not only were they successful, but also they were able to beat Windows CE in performance tests on the same hardware.

Windows CE, on which Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 run, has been the mainstay of Microsoft’s mobile efforts for a very long time. The problem of course is that it’s never really been Windows at all and for the most part it an entirely separate beast. Windows NT, the core of Microsoft’s standard Windows products, was long considered too large and resource heavy to work well on mobile devices. Experiment 19 was a project to prove that not only could NT come to mobile, it could do so and beat Windows CE in the process. It was a success.

For Microsoft this must have been a breakthrough moment, they decided to drop CE for its mobile platforms and go with this new slimmed down core (MinWin).  Whilst we already know that the core of Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT tablets share a similar genesis, it’s nice to see some backstory on where and how this came to pass.

Bringing NT to ARM whilst compacting the fundamentals of Windows has likely been a mammoth undertaking. The fruits of this drive to slim down the once lumbering NT core are being seen clearly now. Windows 7 actually had MinWin as its core and further streamlining of the OS means now Windows 8 runs faster on the same hardware.

As an interesting aside, I was under the impression that Windows Phone 8 would require dual core to run efficiently, due to its basis on the more traditional windows technologies. That is at odds with what I’m reading and seeing here in this snippet from the project. MinWin shows it’s able to run faster on the same hardware. That dispels any rationale I had for MS dropping support for older Windows Phone 7 hardware. That of course is not to say there aren’t a great many other reasons why it can’t run on current gen devices due to hardware requirements or just the plain reason that MS want to drop these lower end devices and move briskly forward with a platform that’s fit to tough it out with the higher end devices of today.

Whilst my feelings about Microsoft’s decision to leave current gen devices behind is mixed, my feelings toward a properly joined up eco system running roughly the same core is very warm indeed. As a long time Windows user, I have seen the benefits of having a wholly formed eco system feeding in and augmenting the other parts. You can see this with client and server versions of Windows clearly. Having a common windows core running on all of their future devices will have so many benefits for Microsoft. Already we are seeing traditional Windows running faster and more efficiently on lower end hardware, a direct result of the need to have an agile core that runs well on mobile. Conversely, Windows Phone 8 will benefit from long established and familiar technology from Windows NT. We can look forward to finally having a highly scalable core, meaning dual and quad core phones are just the start. In Windows Phone 8 we’ll get Bitlocker to secure the device to enterprise levels of security, common driver models and a whole lot more.

Strength through unity of core design

If breaking compatibility with the past and not offering Windows Phone 7 devices an upgrade means we get a more scalable, secure and rich future, I’m prepared to accept that. Windows Phone won’t be a side project at Microsoft anymore. Being a true member of the Windows family will mean that it will be part of Microsoft’s single biggest engineering effort. The results of this project will be hitting the shelves in the October timeframe in the form of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Next year I wonder will we see the Xbox vNext based on a similar core again. I would be very surprised if it we did not.

As ever, I am keen to know what you think. Are you happy to see Windows NT finally reaching Windows Phone? Would you have preferred MS kept Windows Phone separate?

Source Microsoft (opens in new tab) via Mary Jo Foley

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Robert Brand
  • *MinWin, not WinWin :P
  • Fixed. Your comment was a definite WinWin though ;-)
  • Haha ;)
    BTW I've been having trouble adding comments via website for a few hours... I had to use the app for it to go through. I'm not sure if it's just me, or some darker forces are at work :P
  • Did you comment this article first on the website? It's shown as spam. When commenting on the website, let it go through and leave it there as we'll approve the comment and the filters should learn to allow your opinion ;-) If you have further trouble, feel free to contact us directly.
  • Yeah, I tried a few times on different articles and it seemed like the website was timing out... So there's probably a few repeats :P
  • This
  • That's what's happening to me also for a while now. Every time I submit a comment through the website it takes a few minutes to process and then says it has been queued for moderation. Is the site not compatible with IE10 or what?
  • Got one more WinWin left...3rd paragraph, end of 1st sentence
  • That was fixed?
  • LOL WinWin? I sense a evil auto correct spell checker at work, thanks for spotting, sometimes its the machines that winwin ;)
  • The main reason for dropping current devices is that MS don't want to spend money on drivers for old devices, carriers don't want to spend money testing them, and carriers don't want to support completely flashed devices in case they're bricked. It's much easier to sell new devices for profit.
  • (I don't really care as I'll be getting a WP8 device no matter what, but it's sad to see a lot of people screwed over this decision)
  • Nobody got screwed.
  • A lot of people who bought in the last month feel that way...
  • They feel that way, in the same way someone who buys a new car only to find in 4 months a new model of the car they just bought is coming out.
    The answer is:
    *) New products are always produced
    *) Read the news, it was pretty evident a new OS was coming and likely not backward compatible
    No one got screwed, their current phone is working perfectly well _and_ getting an update. So please taking this childish trolling somewhere else (or else I imagine you are one of the dopes who didn't read the net first to see a new OS and hardware spec was due Q4 2012? and bought an 800 or 900?)
  • Since when has Microsoft been a charity enterprise? This is the way of the world, children, if you don't like it build your own company or boycott the theirs. That's said, they have been incredibly kind to their customers over the long haul. Or they would have ditched 32bit a long time ago and all of that backwards compatibility.
  • I agree. Just stating the way it is.
  • last time I checked Apple was kicking MS butt because of exactly this reason. So yes I will buy an iPhone and boycott WP8
  • Good, go to Apple and cut your nose off to spite your face.
    BTW, iOS is no better on the upgrade front, I speak from experience. But don't let that stop you flouncing off to Apple land like a big nancy boy. How tragic.
  • Microsoft does not write the drivers for devices! It is a responsibility of OEMs - and that's why WP8 won't reach existing phones: most OEMs won't bother to write brand new drivers for devices that did not sell well. Also I think there are many other limitations - no integrated TPM chip for enterprise security, not enough storage space (I suspect that NT-based WP8 will be 2-3 times bigger than WP7), not enough RAM (256Mb devices are out), higher risks of failure on upgrade, etc.
    Plus tons of other issues, for example: how do you upgrade devices through Zune when it won't work with Zune after being upgraded; how do you move user's data when there's a new internal directory structure; how do you move apps when there is a new app store involved; etc.
    Basically I'm sure they tried, but there was just too much obstacles.
  • It's the same issue as Android updates. it's the OEMs that don't want to bother (unless the phone is still their latest model of course)
  • That's exactly the same conclusion I came to, and what I tell everyone who attempts to poke fun at "poor baby, not gonna get WP8 on their Lumia."  All of those potential risks are HUGE to customer experience, which they have said time and time again they want to get right.  I'm not dissappointed WP8 isn't coming to my Lumia.  I'll be getting the Lumia 1k when it's released!
  • Wow, I just love the way the tiles are situation on the lumia!! That's so what im going to do with mine, I can use four small tiles grouped like the large tiles as "hubs", like MS services, or entertainment, or functions, and keep the larger tiles for my me, people, etc....i never even thought of that with all the other renders of 7.8. Excited!!
  • Does China have access to the MinWin source as it did for prior versions of NT. That too me spells more threat of vulnerabilities than if the platform were distinct. And to add, the threat is not the Chinese per say, its that that stuff leaks and "they" have access to code that the world at large does not so the world at large cannot help improve the code in the same vain open source projects attempt. Still, I cannot argue against the benefits of a unified core. I just hope they protect their source better.
  • Your comment about backwards compatibility with current WP7 hardware is what I've been saying all along. There is no real reason why wp8 wouldn't work on older phones, the OEMs and carriers just don't want to be responsible for reflashing devices.
  • Correction, they don't want to be responsible for writing new drivers or getting them written AND re-flashing devices. 
    Which sucks in some ways, but it is understandable. 
  • of course they can do it, it is software! its the lie they fed us, the failed promise that they would compete, lack of pace and lack to vision. Apple are slipping into the same rutt and google they are going in every direction at the same time. question really is, are you staying or are you going. After two years and three devices and 5 apps. I am out. I want to be in a world where what I put in is respected and returned. Not a lie like "the hardware doesn't work with the new version"
  • James, stop being histerical.
    No one lied. No one ever said WP8 was going to run on existing hardware, in fact most of us assumed correctly that it wouldn't be backward compatible.
    They have released several updates since 2010 (when I got my firs WP7 phone) to 7.5 Mango, then Tango and other updates. The phone will also be getting 7.8.
    Look, I know some of you plonkers bought an 800 or 900 and now feel bad. But seriously, you'll get over it. Keep your phone, enjoy 7.8 and when your contract is up, pick up a version 8 device.
    Sometimes you get stuck between updates - thats just the way it is. But no one lied.
  • There is no doubt in my mind that a common core within the Windows ecosystem will greatly benefit users. However, despite your statements that this necessitated abandoning high and WinPhone 7 Devices, the article makes it clear that this is not at all being forced on Microsoft by the change to the NT based core, but it is being forced on the most vigorous supporters of the ecosystem because MSoft et al are disinterested in keeping them happy. Look, if your Android you can abandon your user bases machines before you sell them. If you're Apple you can abandon them after a year or two. This works out ok because most of your Customers are not fanatics, just people who don't care much about OS versions etc, and in the US they will get a new phone every couple of years at a subsidized price.
    WinPhone is a long way from having a large and committed user base. Pissing off those they have is a dumb move no matter how you slice it. MSoft should take a cue from Nokia and give everyone who bought/buys a WinPhone 7 handset a rebate on their first WinPhone 8 device.
    Sure that's not something they will do forever, but how far did Nokia's treatment of their Customers to to make them want to stick with their phones? MSoft can I'll afford to shed 5-20% of their Customers this year due to their being P.O.'d about the expensive deadend hardware they were sold.
  • Crymore
  • I disagree...ms can afford it because windows phone 8 WILL bring people into the ms fold, with Xbox music and video integration, the launch of windows 8, and the rise of the ms tablet!! You can look at it anyway you like, but we were crucial to helping shape windows 8 to not just compete with the rest, but outshine them in many respects. So yes, you and me were beta testers, but with the enjoyment I've had with mine, I could care less...and instead of jumping to windows 8, you'll be the first to enjoy the next major upgrade when yours is due so enjoy what you have now. The whole app compatibility thing is all speculation...if and when you run into this in December or January, fuss then, but its all pointless now. Get you he's four of the future and live today!!! And today, you have an amazing phone!!!
  • Your funny and the type of person that would complain if att or Verizon raises their prices but wouldn't consider its the same as what your talking about with WP , they gain more in money than they lose in subscribers or should I say the long time customers .
  • You assume of course that perhaps there won't be something that could quite possibly take place at their retail stores in partnership with their partners to somehow make it worthwhile to those little babies to get new handsets to move up to the new OS..? I mean anything can happen, no one can predict the future =P
  • Seriously, are people going to keep on complaining about this? The decision has been made, you get 7.8 and it's not going to change regardless of how much people complain about it. I bet that the percentage of current WP7 owners who really care about this or even know about it is very low, mostly die hard WP fans. It's not like it wasn't obvious over the past number of months that Microsoft was not going to support old generation phones with WP8. They would avoid the questions about it, all rumours that ever came out were that old devices would NOT support WP8 and if anyone did say otherwise they would retract the comment. Many chose a new Nokia phone knowing they couldn't upgrade, others have decided to wait and just pick up a WP8 device later this year. I was tempted in getting the Nokia 900 to replace my HD7 but it was obvious to me that no upgrade was coming so I waited.
    "MSoft can I'll afford to shed 5-20% of their Customers this year due to their being P.O.'d about the expensive deadend hardware they were sold."
    I think you're giving the general population too much credit thinking that 5-20% even know about it or care. I'd say 5% is the upper limit and most of those people are the ones that visit this and other techie sites.
  • Being on a HTC Arrive, I'll be happy to ditch it for a fresh new WP8 device. Release timeframe is right around when my contract is up. So, it's definitely a "WinWin" for me. ;)
  • Ok, it is official. We were nice little beta testers and we paid MSFT to do it. Thx MSFT
  • Cryharder
  • lol
  • could you please fuck off?
  • No.
  • Mr Burns, we wish you and James and shlubaknob would indeed f off.
    3 people who didn't read the net before buying a product, then realised a new version was due out. Really, if you idiots want to kick anyone - kick yourselves for not reading the web first.
  • The smartphone beta test is over? More like WP7 is the smartphone beta test.
  • Well said madsci2.
    We have been used
  • Yeah, his crying was much better then yours.
  • You're hilarious!
  • Waiting for ever just to get the tango update. Yes, this is down to dell but makes MSFT look bad.
  • Not really.
  • you're comments are making you look stupid, better to just not reply
  • I'm waiting for Tango on my unbranded Nokia Lumia 800 and LG Optimus 7.
    So don't blame Dell, the possibility Microsoft is to blame is quite high...
  • Probably the carrier actually, but don't let that stop you.
    (Its why MS are making updates over the air - and 100% up to them in Version 8, another cool reason to upgrade)
  • Have you checked the status update at the Nokia page?
    I happen to have a Lumia 800 and an Optimus 7, both on Telus, and both got the Tango update.  The Optimus about 3 weeks ago, and the Lumia just over a week ago.
    I'm guessing carrier.
  • The hardware in phones have came a long way since pocket PC. It makes sense that NT can run on them now.
  • I'd be willing to be that many of the WP8 devices we're seeing on these weblogs are current gen hardware testing the kernel.  We know there's no technical reason our current devices won't work, so it probably just comes down to the upgrade from one kernel to the next.  It's easier to cut the losses for current adopters than to deal with the potential fall-out of devices getting bricked by trying to upgrade from WP7 to WP8.
    I'm hoping we'll see the carriers do what they did in the early days of iPhone upgrades and allow people to move to WP8 early in their contract term.  That seems to be a win win situation for both the carrier and for MS and the manufacturers. *crosses fingers*
  • yea. it's pretty likely they would do that. Nokia would. because they want more people in wp8
  • If you look at the number of recent devices out there, Microsoft could eat some of that early upgrade cost and it will still be cheaper than getting WP8 to work on devices that don't have TPM chips and other required hardware.
    I didn't expect my HD7 to get WP8, it would've been great if it did, but it's an old device already and people who have these older phones are probably eligible for an upgrade anyway. Those who got on the WP train with the lumias and titans are stuck with 1-2 year contracts
  • Some articles shouldn't allow comments...SMH
  • Personally the leaving behind of current devices is a one step back, two forward thought. You peeve the current owners but finally get the scalability of a true OS on a mobile device not to mention more developer interest. In addition, its the best time to do it with low market visibility.
  • MS said in the official announcement that they didn't want to spend the resources making wp8 work on wp7 hardware. They never said it was impossible, the kernel prevented it, single cote prevented it, etc.
    They made a business decision not to upgrade the Lumias etc., no law of nature forced them to.
  • That's what the XDA folks are for...
  • Not to long ago there were rumors about the Windows Phone team moving to the windows division under sinofski. The reason was obvious now, althought there are still differences in the 8 versions, with 9 you'll probably see the same product with certain UI changes running on both tablets and phones.
  • All Windows Phone 7 devices are functionally identical. They all use exactly the same processor processors and the same cellular chips. Has NO ONE bothered to ask why there have been no CDMA Windows Phones? OEMs do not write the drivers, hardware manufacturers write the drivers with Microsoft and OEMs just cobble together their phones. The only thing OEMs do is design the cases. There is NOTHING in any Windows Phone that is exclusive to any Windows Phone manufacturers. Microsoft was intensely strict with the spec which is why so few manufacturers made Windows Phones. All this dumb fuck talk about device manufacturers having to write new drivers is beyond uneducated verbal diarrhoea.
  • This post is diarrhea
  • Yet even more proof that WP7 devices were orphaned only because of the EUFI bios and secure bootloader.
  • Personally, I get it. Nothing in the world says that MS has to support older devices. I'll admit I was hoping but I'm not going to be pissed at MS for it. There is reason why. If it's a money thing then ok-- MS is in it to earn profits. Honestly I am too and so is everyone who works for a living. If it's because they don't want to commit resources that could be used more efficiently else where then that's ok with me too. At some point you cross the line of diminishing returns and who are we to decide where that line is. Also we don't know what promotions MS and the carriers are planning to help upgrade existing customers to a new WP8 device.
  • That is the most level headed, balanced, thought out post about this "Issue" i've read. Well done JChapman  <applause> The main problem stems from weak brand recognition of Windows Phone 7 (what a mouthfull) versus the very nice "Lumia" which is great. Now people think Lumia is Windows Phone. They buy a Lumia today, to find out MS have a new platform coming in 4/5 months. Of course Microsoft are not Nokia, and thats the part angry types are missing. Its actually been caused by Nokias great advertisting and getting to the US so late. (Europeans aren't as angry as their Lumia are many months older, and therefore won't have to wait as long to updgrade at contract end)
    I've been in this game with Windows phone (alongside an Android phone, and a Blackberry in my arsenal) for 2 years come October. LG Optimus 7, and Lumia 710. Both great phones, great experience. I'll be only too happy to upgrade to a Version 8 device. Perhaps a Nokia Lumia 1000 with Pureview :)
    Any way, thanks for the reasoned post.