Why are Microsoft and Intel slapping and pulling hair?
Playroom politics as MS lets ARM play with its dolly
Analysis For all the cloudy proclamations Microsoft's boss Steve Ballmer has been making of late, the company's bread 'n' butter products remain on the desktop. And that's a fact that Intel, whose lengthy and prosperous partnership with Redmond recently took a major knock, knows only too well.
Which perhaps goes some way to explaining why Chipzilla's software chief Renée James has been publicly stirring the pot about Microsoft's development of its next Windows operating system.
She stated that non-x86 versions of Windows 8, as it is currently codenamed, won't "ever" run legacy applications.
Of course, MS has long been searching for a foothold in the tablet market, which is now dominated by Apple's iPad as well as slabs running Google's Android OS.
Ballmer has been dinged by the company's shareholders for not successfully pursuing "innovations to take advantage of new form factors", his bonus was capped in October last year to highlight that failure.
Microsoft is in a corner. Its OS empire remains dominant, but the company's might – not just in the consumer market, but also in the corporate and public sector world – is fading as Apple's iPad and other touchscreen and mobile devices have moved into the mainstream.
Ballmer promised Microsoft's investors he would deliver Windows tablet. So the arrival of the software vendor's partnership with ARM clearly reflected that desire to compete with Apple.
At the time that deal was struck, Microsoft was at pains to point out that its relationship with Intel, and indeed AMD, hadn't come to an abrupt end.
Both chip firms will continue to design and build the x86 platform for future Windows-based PCs, said Microsoft in January this year. Hell, those systems, according to James, also get to run the "Windows 8 traditional" version of the OS. Which can be interpreted either as the old fart brigade, or be seen as the processor forefathers of all our hearts.
Either way, there's plenty of room for everyone, even if Intel feels crowded out by the new kid on the block.
James suggested Microsoft was developing four Windows versions for ARM systems.
"There will be four Windows 8 SoCs [system-on-a-chip architectures] for ARM. Each one will run for that specific ARM environment, and they will run new applications or cloud-based applications.
"They are neither forward- nor backward-compatible between their own architecture – different generations of a single vendor – nor are they compatible across different vendors. Each one is a unique stack."
But Intel's "factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading" comments about future ARM-based Windows systems strongly hint that some of the processor chip vendor's execs have taken serious umbrage with Microsoft's newest Silicon friend.
Interestingly, Microsoft bristled at James's remarks and was quick to reject her protestations about ARM systems not running legacy applications on the next version of Windows.
At the same time, the software maker refused to break down that statement and explain which comments made by Intel's software boss were wrong.
This can be interpreted two ways. The first is that Microsoft simply wants to closely guard its Windows 8 roadmap. The second, more tantalisingly, is that Redmond is being evasive about the x86 architecture its previous operating systems have relied upon so heavily because the company has finally acknowledged that legacy software and the tablet interface don't mix well.
In October last year, I saw an internal Microsoft document that pointed out that the company was desperate to realign its strategy.
"Business processes that have remained untouched for years urgently need to be examined," it said.
If part of that identity crisis overhaul involves Microsoft dangerously shaking off its legacy past, then so be it. But for Intel to publicly admit that its chips aren't as essential to MS as they once were, is just as damaging for Chipzilla's anxiety over its future in the so-called post-PC era. ®
Legacy. What it is.
Windows is a legacy operating system for legacy applications. It has been for quite some time now. It's a good thing that people are starting to realize that.
Good riddance to the bully who is finally starting to get what's coming to him.
It says a lot when Microsoft are promising vapourware while everyone else in the market has the first product out and are working on their second version. Apple has their second version out and are already working on the next one.
Microsoft don't bring you the future, they bring you what was new 18-24 months ago.
Mobile x86 just doesn't cut it, you simply can't build a mobile device around it when ARM delivers twice the battery life.
>Microsoft don't bring you the future, they bring you what was new 18-24 months ago.
That explains why they've partnered with Nokia, they're both on the same strategy...
The best lies ...
... contains grains of truth.
Intel is partly right: ARM-based Win8 devices will never run legacy applications natively and there will, indeed, be different software stacks for different SoC's. But the latter won't matter as long as the programmer's API remains the same. Indeed, x86-based computers also use different stacks to compensate for differences in hardware: 32-bit/64-bit, number of cores, different graphics cards, sound cards, etc. I can't see this being much worse with ARM, especially if MS sets up a minimum standard (Cortex A8 or higher, 2+ cores, NEON FPU, DirectX support,...).
Legacy applications can be made to run under emulation, which will be slower than running natively, but perhaps not by a lot: Shared library routines can run natively and processor-hungry graphics and sound will run on the graphics and sound processors anyway.
In any case, it should be clear that Microsoft is moving away from native-code applications towards .NET, which removes any CPU dependency (as long as .NET is ported to the CPU). So in the long run, Intel has no a priori advantage over other CPU vendors.
Intel is losing market share
...and ARM is making great advances in volume and stock price. Hissy fits on Intel's part are unavoidable. Expect more histrionics as things get worse.
Guy in the square hat, cuz it is academic. :)