Microsoft embraces ARM with Windows 8
Breaks Wintel fidelity
CES 2011 Microsoft's next version of Windows will run on ARM systems using system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures from NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments.
Microsoft announced its platform diversification for Windows 8 during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada on Wednesday. Windows 8 is expected sometime in 2012.
This is the first time a version of Microsoft's sacred Windows client will run natively on ARM. In the past Windows Embedded CE ran on ARM, while Microsoft's built an $18bn annual business putting the full Windows client on PCs running x86 from Intel and AMD.
Also planned is a version of Microsoft's ubiquitous Office productivity suite that will run natively on ARM. Office is Microsoft's second major money spinner, generating up to $18bn annually.
Conscious of the fact that it's breaking 32-years of fidelity with the Intel architecture, Microsoft padded Wednesday's news, saying Windows is not completely abandoning Chipzilla clients.
Intel, along with AMD, will continue to evolve and improve the x86 platform with low-power systems new designs, such as Intel's second generation Core processor family and AMD's Fusion accelerated processing units (APUs), Microsoft said Wednesday.
But the move to ARM primes the planned Windows 8 client to appear on a range of small, thin, and low-powered mobile devices with increased battery life.
ARM's been a long time coming for Microsoft, though it has dodged the issue when grilled in public. The jump to embrace ARM SoCs should mean a fresh lease of life and licensing revenue for the Windows franchise and opportunity for OEM partners.
Microsoft's been taking flack for years now over the potential death of the Windows PC, an Intel- and AMD-dominated institution, against the backdrop of explosive growth in mobile and devices. Microsoft has also been grilled for failing to respond to the popularity of Apple's iPad tablet.
Last year, chief executive Steve Ballmer more or less apologized to investors for slipping up on tablets, and promised "it is job-one urgency" to deliver Windows tablets against Apple.
Windows 8 on ARM should finally mean an exciting new range of tablet computers from Microsoft partners that actually challenge Apple.
The first generation of Windows 7 tablets are generally clunky. And Windows 7 is built for keyboard and mouse use – not multi-touch input, which is limited.
Multi-touch input and the ability to run on a slate are among Microsoft's goals for Windows 8.
The downside for Microsoft and Windows partners and fans? The expected 2012 delivery of Windows 8. The date means OEM partners must continue to work within the limitations of Windows 7 for at least a year and use Intel's Oak Trail Atom processor if they wish to challenge Apple's iPad.
ARM means greater ubiquity of devices, but that's a year off.
Microsoft said support for SoC in the next version of its planned Windows 8 client would enable industry partners to design and deliver the widest range of hardware ever. Windows and Windows Live Division group vice president Steven Sinofsky announced the news at a press conference at CES, where he was surrounded by machines using SoC. During the event, Microsoft demonstrated Windows 8 on ARM and x86 netbooks running chipsets from old friends AMD and Intel.
Microsoft promised standard Windows staple features on SoC, such as hardware accelerated media playback, hardware accelerated Web browsing with the latest version of its Internet Explorer browser, support for USB devices, and the ability to print.
CEO Ballmer is expected to provide more details on his company's ARM conversion during the opening CES keynote later on Wednesday. ®
MIPS and Alpha?
"Conscious of the fact that it's breaking 32-years of fidelity with the Intel architecture, Microsoft padded Wednesday's news, saying Windows is not completely abandoning Chipzilla clients."
Sorry ... there was me thinking that WIndows NT 3.X and 4 ran on the Alpha and MIPS chipsets. My memory must be failing me ... I didn't realise that these were Intel chip architectures.
Just what we were missing
I'm not sure how I survived without my "small, thin, and low-powered mobile devices" having a 16 GB OS. Where do I sign up?
Any chance of doing more than quoting a press release?
Here, let me give you a bit of a clue stick :
1) Go and look at how many hardware platforms Windows Server 2008 supports. Clue : it's more than x86 and x64.
2) How many platforms did NT 4 support on release? It's more than one, and less than five..
Another use for their VirtualPC purchase, perhaps?
VirtualPC built a full-software x86 emulator and sold it for the purpose of running Windows on PowerPC Macs, were bought by Microsoft and their core technology is used in the XBox 360 (a PowerPC machine) to run original XBox (an Intel machine) software. If it's not completely PowerPC wedded, is it possible they could use the x86 emulator the same way Apple used Rosetta, to support old x86 apps on the ARM platform?
It's also a fantastic opportunity to emphasise Win32 as the past and .NET as the only way onward.
I wonder how companies like Adobe are going to take the news, being famously bad at keeping up with software transitions.
Apps, and OEMs
Well, first off, I don't know about "OEM partners", but OEMs in general don't have to wait for Microsoft. They already have Android, as well as their choice of *full* Linux distros (including Ubuntu) that run just fine on the ARM. Including being able to print 8-) The beauty is these aren't second-class ports -- I've used Ubuntu on PowerPC, and previously used distros on PA-RISC, Alpha, and MIPS, and if I couldn't physically see the computer I could have thought I was on x86. Since almost everything is open source, it's not like you load up some oddball platform and you have 1/10th the apps either. (Anecdotes at the bottom)
Applications will be the BIG problem. Microsoft has two choices, both pretty nasty -- 1) Expect people to port apps to ARM. This will guarantee that Windows on ARM is second-class, whether Windows itself runs OK or not, there'll be virtually no apps available. 2) x86 emulation. This is sure to have a performance penalty, virtually guaranteeing Windows is the poorest-performing choice for an OS to run on the ARM.
Anecdote: When I was on vactaion, the guys where I used to work found a PC case identical to the PC I had on my desk, stuck a PowerMac motherboard into it, put Ubuntu for PowerPC onto it, installed the few missing apps, copied my home directory over, and put it in place of my PC. They even got a USB->PS2 adapter so the same Model M keyboard was plugged in. I literally couldn't tell it wasn't my old PC until I finally rebooted, and heard that Mac startup sound -- then I was like "What did you guys do!?" 8-)
Second anecdote: Besides Ubuntu for PowerPC, I've installed Linux distros on PA-RISC, Alpha, and MIPS. I can assure you, it was an identical user experience to running on an x86 dekstop. In fact, I used to enjoy running exotic machines rather than AMD/Intel, but it got to where the install was "pop in CD for that platform. choose 'install'. OK you're done", so I actually gravitated back to AMD boxes, until something else gets a clear advantage. The ARM has a clear advantage of FAR lower power draw.