Otellini yawns at Windows on ARM
Chipzilla stays on message
After Microsoft announced that the next release of its Windows operating system would run on ARM chips, Chipzilla headman Paul Otellini and his staff must have received a memo from Intel Thought Central.
That missive would have said something along the lines of:
- It's not news.
- We welcome it.
- We will grind the bones of our enemies into powder and cast them to the four winds.
During a conference call with reporters and analysts following Intel's announcement on Thursday of its 2010 fourth-quarter financial performance, president and CEO Otellini took much the same tack as did the Intel spokesman with whom we spoke at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, starting with menu item number one, above.
"I guess I view it as being not a lot of new news," Otellini said, "and I can see positives and negatives for Intel in this announcement. Historically, Microsoft has only supported ARM in their phone OS and in their consumer electronics OS. So they've had ARM support for some time."
Otellini did go beyond the spokeman at CES, however, when he said that Microsoft's flagship PC operating system has not always been Intel-only. "In fact, in 'Big Windows', [Microsoft] had support for, gosh, Alpha, PowerPC, MIPS," he said, "and at one point, [it was slated for] ARM on the Vista program that they dropped. So this is nothing really new from that perspective."
The Intel sachem then moved on to item number two. "The plus for Intel is that as they unify their operating systems," he said, "we now have the ability for the first time: one, to have a designed-from-scratch, touch-enabled operating system for tablets that runs on Intel that we don't have today. And secondly, we have the ability to put our lowest-power Intel processors running Windows 8 – or 'next-generation Windows' – into phones, because it's the same OS stack. And I look at that as an upside opportunity for us."
Exactly what advantage it would be to put "Big Windows" onto a smartphone, Otellini didn't say.
On to door number three. Although our CES contact had the street charm to challenge ARM by saying: "You want to come and party in our kitchen and rattle the pots and pans? I've got Sandy Bridge. Bring it on," Otellini used corner office–appropriate locution to convey the same message.
"Many of you have asked us questions about how we will compete with ARM in the new segments of mobile computing," he said during the prepared-statement segment of his conference call. "Our answer is very simple: as we have done for decades in the traditional computing markets, we will apply the world's most advanced silicon transistor technology to these new segments to deliver the lowest-power, highest-performance, lowest-cost products on the planet."
Wrapping up, Otellini said: "When these chips are combined with our support for the world's leading operating systems, our proven ability to create broad ecosystem support, and our growing software capabilities, I'm confident we will be very successful in these segments."
Translation: "Bring it on!" ®
Oh wow, hahahaha
"and at one point, [it was slated for] ARM on the Vista program that they dropped. So this is nothing really new from that perspective."
ARM procs in 2007 maxed at what, 620 MHz? Not trying to slam ARM here, but Vista? M'F'ing Vista? The king of bloated, inefficient OS... on ARM? No surprise at all that didn't work out.
Windows on ARM isn't about selling systems, it's about controlling the OEMs.
MS controls the OEMs through discounts and co-operative marketing projects. In principle this 'saves' the OEM millions of dollars. In practice it means that if the OEM doesn't do as it is told then it is 'fined' millions through losing the discounts.
When netbooks first appeared they ran Linux. Vista couldn't run on them so the OEMs thought their discounts were safe. MS brought back XP which would run on netbooks, but they restricted the machines it was allowed on so that the OEM couldn't sell it on real machines.
The effect was that Linux disappeared which is exactly what MS wanted.
Now netbooks and tablets are coming out with ARM and once again run Linux. MS desperately want an ARM based Windows solely to threaten the OEMs into dropping Linux. If ARM Windows is useless then no matter, as long as it is there to control the OEMs into dropping Linux. If ARM machines don't get made then that is a benefit to MS too.
Of course there is more than that
Windows has tried porting before and while in theory it works pretty well the problem is the 3rd party software doesn't follow. It's a pain in the backside to support multiple platforms and always has been. Even if it's a straight recompile, you still have to QA it all. And usually it isn't a straight recompile with dependencies on a 3rd party library or package dooming the effort from the get go. Without robust x86 emulation built-in, any Windows port immediately finds itself in a seriously disadvantaged position.
Compare to OS X where Apple basically burnt their ships to the old world but provided tools to devs and users to ease the transition. Fat binary support and G3 emulation made the virtually seamless for users. If anything Apple are better positioned if they decided to jump ship again to ARM.
Compare to Linux where virtually all the apps people use are source code to begin with. Moving architectures has been part and parcel of Linux from the beginning and usually requires recompiling all the apps to the new target. Some flies in the ointment would be WINE, Flash and some other bits and bobs but largely it's painless.
On Windows it isn't painless unless MS implement a somewhat decent emulation layer. Without that any port will find itself in a niche. Perhaps Microsoft's gameplan this time around is to use Windows as a shell for tablet-y apps but allow a desktop when the user plugs in a dock. The desktop would at least allow users to run MS office or something and maybe some other apps that bother to produce a native port.
I wonder why MS doesn't embrace LLVM or similar to reduce some of the pain for C++ apps. If devs compiled to low level byte then it largely doesn't matter what architecture is underneath. It doesn't help the vast uncountable swath of useful x86 apps work but it's better than the current situation.