Why Windows Phone 8 breaks the backwards compatibility tradition
Microsoft had always maintained backwards compatibility with most of their products. Compatibility has been one of the main reasons Windows has seen such great success, specifically backwards compatibility to systems such as MS-DOS. Even today you can get to a DOS prompt (command prompt) from Windows 7, this hasn’t changed for years and from a functionality point of view this is a bonus.
The announcement of the new Windows Phone 8 (and previously Windows RT on which Windows Phone 8 is based) flew in the face of tradition for Microsoft, it “broke” the compatibility of the applications and their ability to run on the new platform. This has been a typically non-Microsoft way to act but something that the industry isn’t totally unfamiliar with.
Apple have, on more than one occasion, launched a platform that is incompatible with anything that had come before. I refer to the release of its new operating system, OSX (acquired in part from their purchase of NEXT Computing in the late 90′s), OSX broke everything that was written for OS9 and had to come with an OS9 “classic mode” to address those applications that weren’t re-written for the new operating system.
This had an impact on performance and some cornerstone Mac apps like QuarkXpress didn’t get full OSX compatible versions for over a year after its release. This fundamental change in operating system architecture came at a cost, but for a long term strategic gain in performance and overall technology roadmap.
The change was mitigated again with the change made by Apple of their processor supplier from IBM to Intel in 2006, a decision shrouded in secrecy but one that again was part of a longer term view. “Backwards compatibility” was provided for Power PC apps by way of the rosetta engine and subsequently “universal” code that eased the transition.
It would almost seem that Microsoft have taken a leaf out of Apple's book and decided that to make the perfect omlette you need to break a few eggs first. Windows Phone 8 will share the same core as Windows RT and Windows 8, giving developers a common platform.
This will no doubt annoy those who have recently purchased a Windows Phone 7 device, rendering it end of life despite it being a “current” model. An update is imminent for Windows Phone 7 owners to the new Windows Phone 8 start screen, and that is the extent of it, no other Windows Phone 8 features will be available on current Windows Phone 7 handsets even after the 7.8 update, its all purely cosmetic.
Personally I think the steps made by Microsoft are necessary and given their history of providing backwards compatibility, I think the change is refreshing, offering better long term architecture of their Windows framework allowing commonality across devices. Windows 8, RT and Windows Phone 8 are all scheduled for launch later this year (Post October 2012 timeframe), expect to see Office 15 soon after, on all devices! And announced today, Customer Preview of Office 2013 was announced today, firming up my previous predictions and also merging the cloud with the Office experience…
download it here! http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/en
Developers can sign up for free Windows 8 Dev Camps here.