This is the kind of news just tailor-made for OSNews. After 16 years of trusty service, the venerable Windows CE will be history as far as Microsoft’s mobile operating system offering goes – the next major version of Windows Phone will use the NT kernel from Windows 8. As a heavy former Windows PocketPC Mobile CE Ultimate SP2 Edition user, this makes me sad. As a fan of the NT kernel, this makes me happy.
Most of the time, whenever a new mobile operating version comes out – be it Android, iOS or whatever – it’s usually pretty boring. Better Twitter integration, prettier weather application, or talk about how the application store now has 89572876206740986750986703876 applications in it. There’s rarely anything truly interesting going on in the nitty gritty of things. Until Windows Phone 8.
Microsoft has confirmed – rather unintentionally; a video about WP8 for Nokia leaked – that Windows Phone 8 will ditch the CE kernel in favour of the NT kernel from Windows 8. This was actually a long time coming, as rumours to that effect have come up intermittently ever since Windows Phone 7 was launched. Thanks to Windows Phone 7’s clean and kernel-independent architecture, all current Windows Phone 7.5 applications will continue to run – without a single code change.
It goes further than that, though. Not only will Windows Phone 8 run on Windows NT, it will also share many other components with its desktop cousin: sensors, the security model, and the network, audio, and graphics stacks. So much so, in fact, that developers can “reuse – by far – most of their code”, according to senior vice president and Windows Phone manager Joe Belfiore.
Over the years, I’ve written several articles on this topic, and now it seems Microsoft has finally arrived at the point where I mused they ought to go way back in 2007: clean up NT, scrap the existing userland, and build something entirely new on top of it, reusing code where it makes sense, and make this userland available consistently on both mobile and desktop/laptops. That userland is Metro/WinRT.
This is the point to which Microsoft has been working ever since they started cleaning up the lower levels of Windows NT. We’ve now apparently hit the point where Windows NT has become so modular, untangled, and clean that it can replace Windows CE without breaking Windows Phone 7, and without causing a significant performance hit (else Microsoft wouldn’t do it). All this is, of course, a very good thing for both users and developers alike; faster updates for users (only one operating system to update), easier development for developers (code reuse).
Windows Phone 8 will also come with several other improvements, such as wider hardware support, more screen resolutions, removable microSD cards, NFC, and so on. Skype will be integrated very tightly with the operating system, making Skype calls virtually indistinguishable from regular calls. Furthermore, Internet Exploer 10 will also find its way to WP8. Like Opera Mini, Skyfire, and several other mobile browsers, IE10 will also employ a proxy server to reduce data usage.
There’s more stuff like this, but the switch to the NT kernel is really the biggest change here. It may have taken ten years of cleaning, but NT is now ready to power everything Microsoft does – server, desktop/laptop, phone, and I’m fairly sure the next Xbox will run Windows Nt as well (the Xbox and the Xbox 360 currently run completely custom operating systems).