Windows and low cost tablets
Interesting news recently about Acer developing a low cost Windows 8 (x86 version, not RT) tablet. In my opinion that is what Windows 8 really needs right now. The problem though is that most Windows tablets are designed with a more powerful CPU (aka. costs more and uses more power) becauses a good bit of software for Windows just runs poorly unless you have a bit of power behind it. Even Windows 7 required 2 gig of memory (only starter versions comes with 1 gig). The operating system is bloated so you need a much bigger SSD (solid state drive) than say a comparible Android tablet.
So what is wrong with this picture ?
The problem is not the hardware, but the software. If you want a more detailed discussion of why I think this is so, read some of my other articles in this blog. To put it plainly, I feel that overuse of OOP and bloated GUI runtimes are partly to blame. Having been a WIN32 programmer for the last decade I find that one can build applications which use the native API’s, run fast and have a tiny footprint. If Microsoft just dropped all the heavy OOP usage I don’t doubt the operating system could run on half the memory it does today. My Windows XP computer originally came with 256 meg ram and it sufficed for years. Software tends to be slow today as well, yet the average CPU, even the lowly Atom CPU (single core) , can run rings around the CPU’s that were used when Windows XP was released.
Bob Zale (who recently died) of PowerBasic pushed his company with the goal of “faster, smaller, faster, smaller”, which is one of the reasons I use PowerBasic. By tapping into the native API’s in Windows and using a compiler which produces fast and small applications, one can produce applications with a minimal overhead. It is this kind of software which is need to make a low cost Windows tablet shine.
Now PowerBasic is not ready yet for building Windows Store apps (aka. Metro), but it can be used to produce some amazing software for the Windows 8 desktop (and it will be compatible with previous versions of Windows too, which is one reason the desktop is still vitally important). The problem with building Windows apps using the native API’s is that the majority appear to think it just was too difficult, which is why Microsoft first moved to MFC (Microsoft Foundation Classes), then ATL and then dot.net (why not build a better GUI framework ?). Now I have played with the latest Visual Studio and it is by no means easy to use. The over use of OOP just adds complexity, rather than simplicity. In my own personal experience, even the Windows API (WIN32) is easier to grasp than dot.net stuff. Sure it may be powerful, but there is more power in simplicity rather than complexity.
Now I am not saying the Windows API is easy to learn, just that as complex as it is, it is easier than what Visual Studio offers today, at least for me it is. But I am not satisified with the Windows API either, because it could have been made even so much easier than it is. This is why I developed EZGUI Professional. EZGUI was to be an inhouse tool, so I could shield myself from the Windows API, but it eventually became more than that. It was possible to make the Windows API easier to work with. EZGUI became of a GUI framework of its own, but it simply accessed what was already there in the Windows API, simplified it and removing the mundane stuff so you could concentrate on the important stuff. What is so surprising about all of this, was how much power I was able to pack into EZGUI’s runtimes in such a small footprint.
Just think, EZGUI supports not only the major features of system controls, dialogs (forms), common dialogs, most common controls and even MDI (multiple document interface), but it also sports a graphic engine for Windows DC (for ownerdraw), its Canvas control and for the printer. It has a number of proprietary custom controls built in such as its Canvas control, MCI control, glCanvas control, Turtle Graphic control, property Listbox control and more. It has a 2D sprite engine, a 3D OpenGL based engine, low level DIB support, image rotation, alphablending, 22 image filters, vector graphics (Turtle), thread engine, ownerdraw engine, 3D buttons, subclass engine, superclass engine, precision timing, region generation (non-rectangular windows), clipboard support, registry access, tray icon support, autosize engine, built in scaling engine and a drag and drop engine (WYSIWYG style apps). And there is more than that.
And all of this fits into about 1 megabyte of space. Yes it all can fit on a single floppy disk ! Now imagine of one started building applications with such a tiny footprint ? You would not need so much memory, so much hard drive (or SSD) space or even so powerful a CPU. By decreasing the hardware requirements of software, you make building cheaper computer devices possible. One could build a tablet with the least expensive Atom CPU possible, a 20 gig SSD (all that Windows 8 needs) and only 1 gig memory and desktop apps built with EZGUI (and Powerbasic) would run very well. And guess what ? The same software could run on a 10 year old Windows XP computer, with 256 meg ram and a 20 gig harddrive.
To make cheaper Windows tablets possible, one must be able to use less expensive (and less powerful) hardware. To make the tablets still shine they would require a new generation of software which can run on minimal hardware and still impress the end users (fast and fluid).
So I will be watching to see what kind of Windows tablets show up in 2013 and I will be ready for them, even if they are extremely low cost with minimal hardware. Now I think the $199 price range would be a sweet spot for a Windows tablet (10 inch) and possibly $149 or less for a 7 inch Windows tablet. Yes, I think a 7 inch Windows tablet would be a great idea. So what will manufacturers come up with in 2013 ? Let’s wait and see.