An (Almost) Epic Win for Microsoft -- and Developers

Say what you will about the Mac maker: Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) needs to copy Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) in at least one important way.

This week, Microsoft unveiled a number of changes to Windows Phone 8, and none was so important as a shared code base. The mobile and desktop editions of Windows 8 will share native C and C++ code.

For those who don't understand under-the-hood geekery, the idea is to give those who write the 1s and 0s needed to create apps, games, and the like the ability to do so much more efficiently. Most code written for one format -- say, the desktop -- will be reusable for the other.

What's more, because the code is "native," meaning it is tied to the underlying hardware and processor, developers will be free to write graphics-intensive and other high-stress code. Windows 8 phones and PCs will use onboard hardware to accelerate the speed by which the code is executed.

Those writing for the new Surface tablet could benefit similarly. Or at least, one of the tablets.

Surface comes in two styles. The "RT" edition is blessed with a fast core built around ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) designs and may suffer from enough architectural differences to lose out on the benefits of native code support.

Microsoft's other tablet has more drive space -- 128 GB -- and is built around the same Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) architecture that powers most PCs. The Intel edition of Surface should execute native Windows 8 code as fast as any desktop or smartphone.

Who else is missing out? Apple. True, iOS and the newest editions of Mac OS X are merging, and they will even more so when forthcoming Mountain Lion edition of OS X reaches consumers next month. (The new version adopts many more iOS traits, including Siri and dictation.)

The difference is that Apple long ago struck a deal with Intel to replace the PowerPC chip for its various Macs. Apple's line of mobile iDevices is built on the AX series of chips the Mac maker designed in-house, and which are based on the ARM-based P.A. Semi architecture Apple acquired in 2008.

So far, Apple hasn't merged its chip architecture to make life easier for developers. My guess is it won't be long before CEO Tim Cook makes the leap.

In the meantime, it's Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showing developers the love. And this time, there's no creepy, sweat-soaked dance to accompany the gesture. Well done, Mr. Softy.

Think I'm right? Wrong? Either way, mobile devices such as the new Surface are changing how we think about connecting and commerce. Our top tech analysts call the shift "The Next Trillion-Dollar Revolution," and they've created a report that singles out the one stock they believe will benefit most. Their research is yours for the asking, but only for a limited time. Get a copy of the report -- it's totally free. Also be sure to check out our new Apple premium research service, which offers subscribers exclusive updates from our senior tech analyst for a full year!

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home, portfolio holdings, and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Intel, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Intel and creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2012, at 5:57 PM, demodave wrote:

    I'd say half right. What you say about common code am be true, but RT and 8 *are* driven by different hardware, so as you say, they am not play well together. I'd be willing to bet that they do not. That does also seem to be the common consensus in the blogosphere at the moment. Not that the blogosphere is necessarily correct.

    Similarly, iOS and Mac OS don't play perfectly well together today. But I don't for a second think that we will never see full-on Mac computers with touch screens. My investment wager is that we see one within 24 months. In a laptop sooner than in a desktop, I think.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2012, at 5:59 PM, demodave wrote:

    Man, my iPhone just harpooned my orthography. :)

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2012, at 7:44 PM, xmmj wrote:

    Your statements are contradictory. If code is "native" and the RT is an ARM design, then by definition the code base differs.

    Now - it IS possible that the high level (C, C++, etc) code share exactly the same core API (the named routines that programmers use to get complex things done). This would certainly mean that they could then merely compile them first for a desktop then for a tablet. This would help. But it still does not mean the programmer does not have extra work to do. For example, there is the touch interface. Desktops likely will not have it. If you want to program to use tilt controls, again not likely a desktop will have it. If you want to program advanced graphics routines, not likely that the tablet will have the hardware to utilize it.

    This really is not so very different from Apple. Their iOS development environment is the same for the iOS and OSX, and is based on a lot of the same core features. Some APIs are shared, other specific to each OS.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2012, at 7:46 PM, xmmj wrote:

    Your whole argument is bogus.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2012, at 8:01 PM, Melci wrote:

    Microsoft is yet again trying to get non-multi-touch optimised legacy desktop OS and programs to work on a tablet (the Surface Pro) along with all of their cruft, RAM, CPU and storage demands, just like they have spectacularly failed to do for over a decade.

    The iPad has demonstrated that to do a tablet well, it has to be far lighter-weight in terms of CPU, RAM and storage in order to fit the thinness, lightness and long battery requirements required of such a portable device. It also has to be far cheaper than the "Ultrabook" pricing model.

    Tablet buyers have shown they want true instant-on and instant launch and an incredibly fluid multi-touch UI without the jerky stuttering of Android or the need to pick up a keyboard or pen of Windows.

    Apple, instead of trying to unify desktop and tablet ala Microsoft, has instead unified smartphone and tablet, two arguably closer devices in terms of portability and performance.

    The Surface RT which is only capable of running Metro apps is obviously Microsoft trying to have it both ways, but with the incompatibilities between Metro APIs on the phone vs on the tablet, they still haven't carried through and unified the two and instead have to strat from scratch with zero apps for tablet-optimised Metro apps.

    We'll see soon enough which strategy is going to be the winner in the tablet space, but at this point it is clearly Apple that is in the lead.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2012, at 8:13 PM, JHawkinTexas wrote:

    The bar must be set pretty low for EPIC these days. I could not disagree you more and would venture to postulate this is yet another area that will contribute to Microsoft's failure on mobile. Why? Because mobile apps are fundamentally different from desktop apps. Apple knows this and wanted iOS developers ti THINK DIFFERENTLY about mobile development from the ground up and not just rehash their OSX programs. If you want some good examples, take a look at Pages, Keynote, and Numbers on iOS vs OSX.

    Windows programs running on Windows Mobile 8...what a disaster. Redmond still hasn't figured it out and their recent Surface demo only reinforces that view.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2012, at 11:56 PM, 0gre wrote:

    Common code base is interesting so long as writing the same application, or a very similar one makes sense. For example iOS apps for the iPad and the iPhone share a common code-base.

    I'm not convinced apps for the Mac and the iPhone are going to have enough overlap enough for it to matter. Similarly, I don't see applications for a Windows Desktop to have a ton in common with applications you use on a phone or tablet.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2012, at 12:43 AM, kpbpsw wrote:

    This is simply wrong. iOS and OS X have been using the same code base and development environment (Xcode) since it's beginning.

    MSFT will not active this for years as there are still many different foundation classes in Windows, Windows Phone and Windows RT.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2012, at 1:48 AM, fatmonk wrote:

    It is the bottom line. Most profit platform is top priority. it seems Microsoft does not have a clear direction.Windows Mobile 6.5, 7 and 8 are all so different from each others. Hybrid W8 is good or bad time will tell. The Questions can MSFT keep up annually release OS?

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2012, at 5:43 PM, geekdadnyc wrote:

    Tim, you don't quite understand what you're trying to say.

    You're trying to say that Windows programs will run successfully, without modification, on desktop, phone, and Surface Pro tablet. This is not true.

    1. Desktop applications are designed around a mouse/keyboard interface and a big screen.

    2. Tablet apps are designed around a medium-sized screen and finger touch, wifi, and moderate mobility.

    3. Phone applications are designed around very small screens, finger touch, 3G/4G connections, and extreme mobility.

    Can you name one app design that works across all those form factors? Neither can anybody else.

    Even Office has different versions for each platform, regardless of whether the platforms run the same processor architecture or not.

    Additionally, the reason that Apple chose ARM over Intel x86 is battery life vs processing power -- ARM gives better battery life for the equivalent processing power. That hasn't changed yet. So the Surface Pro will most probably give less battery life than the Surface/ARM version, at least for the same battery weight. And it's anybody's call what it does versus the iPad.

    So after analysis, you haven't said anything useful in this article.

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