Microsoft is currently busy promoting their upcoming Windows 8 operating system designed for use on tablets and mobile phones as well as their traditional PC market. However, as a result of making Windows lean and mean enough to run on these devices, an unexpected benefit has been gained for users who have access to old hardware. For it appears that Windows 8 will run on many low-spec x86 PC platforms going all the way back to PCs based on the Pentium Pro processor from 1995.
In order to get Windows to run on small ARM-based devices, a lot of the bloat has been removed by Microsoft's developers. The sophisticated mouse and keyboard friendly user interface of Windows 7 has migrated to a simpler Metro interface aimed at smaller touch screens, and extensive device support is only incorporated if required. These changes have, as a by-product, created an operating system which is much more compact and efficient. Small enough to run on a mobile phone; and even small enough to load on to a PC from around fifteen years ago.
It should be noted that there are a few limitations. Only the 32 bit version is compatible with old Pentium Pro architecture, and some of the old peripheral devices will not be supported. But if the idea of loading Windows 8 on to old equipment catches on, it will undoubtedly spawn a wave of driver development to suit.
In a simple test, this publication found an old Compaq Pentium II PC which had been left in storage after being rejected by several charity shops as being of no value. A beta copy of Windows 8 was written to CD and installed over the existing Windows 95. Not only did the install work, but it ran faster than the old Windows 95 operating system. Although at present it will only support an old 10MBPS 3Com Network card, it ran a copy of Google's Chrome browser perfectly.
The implications of this could be enormous. It is estimated that around 30% of PCs in use in the UK are not capable of supporting Windows 7. Yet they could be capable of supporting Windows 8. And what about all the PCs that are no longer in use but have been stuck in the loft or the garage? They could suddenly be made operational once more.
When Windows 8 is released later this year, it could well turn out to be the operating system that turned built-in-obsolescence on its head.