The freedom to tinker - why Apple et al really want an ARM licence
These pocket computers put a huge strain on the processors, forcing ARM to extend the design and innovate to the point where its cores aren't as RISC as they used to be, even if they are still frugal on the power and cool to the touch. But it's not just technical innovations that make ARM the architecture of choice: the ability to change silicon chip suppliers and tweak designs has also been vitally important to the success of the platform.
A really large manufacturer might stump up a lot of cash to license ARM's core architecture to tweak as they will, but there are only a handful of such companies (including Qualcomm, Marvell, Infineon and, mysteriously, Microsoft). The majority of licensees take a design as it stands and integrate it into their own chips. That's what Samsung and Apple did for iPhones and iPads - until Apple fiddled with the blueprints to create the iPhone 5's A6 chip. It serves to illustrate the advantage of a licensed architecture (like ARM) over a chip shipper (like Intel).
Samsung used to make the chips for Apple's iOS gear by integrating a load of functionality (including an ARM core or two) into a single piece of silicon known as a System on a Chip (SoC). Then Apple had a bit of a falling out with Samsung, so it decided to make its own SoCs, which entailed taking an ARM architecture licence from those nice chaps in Cambridge and rolling up its sleeves. Had Apple been getting its chips from Intel or similar, then the shift in providers would have been a lot more challenging: it couldn't, for instance, just walk off with Intel's silicon designs and hand them over to, say, AMD.
For smaller players the argument is even more compelling. They can design one SoC package and contract its manufacture out to multiple suppliers, enabling them to negotiate the best price while being confident that supplies aren't going to totally disappear if one factory were to end the production run.
The popularity of ARM is no doubt behind Microsoft's decision to support the architecture with Windows RT. Microsoft needs to bring in more manufacturers, and get some innovation in design, and those companies will be much more interested in designing around parts available from multiple manufacturers, not to mention capable of supporting multiple operating systems.
Compromise all round?
So ARM is an excellent choice, regardless of the accuracy of Sinofsky's claims on power and performance. Intel has advanced in leaps and bounds since it became clear that mobile was the place to be, but that might not help when it's the business model - the licensing of ARM - that is the real driver for Windows RT as Microsoft seeks raw growth from a starting point of zero.
So, Microsoft gets proliferation. What do users of Windows RT devices get aside from smaller units that last all night and don't burn a hole in your lap?
On the software side, don't expect your standard Windows apps to run on the ARM machines as Windows RT won't run software built for Intel's IA32 and X86-64 family of processors - a point of huge contention between Microsoft and Intel. Windows RT users won't be allowed out of the user interface formerly known as Metro, so there will be no classic Windows desktop-style mouse and keyboard experience.
On the plus side, Windows RT will come with bundled apps instead - versions of programs found in Windows 8 Pro except Windows Media Player. Also, there will be a version of Office 2013 called Office Home & Student 2013 RT that will include Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint but no Outlook.
ARM has made its name without its name being obvious: only those inside the business could really spot an ARM phone or tablet, and most consumers aren't the kind of engineering geeks who pay attention to the kind of chipset their machine is running.
If Windows RT becomes a mass market, then this will suit the kinds of box shifters who are not interested in the high end, where brand matters and computers need recognisable logos. ARM is quite happy in this space, for the moment at least.
ARM has some distinct technology advantages, but it's the business model - licensing - that's really driving Microsoft here and that should help keep Microsoft happy for a while. As for users? They get one of the world's most popular software suites, Office. The rest? Well, you didn't want your old software did you? ®
* Since the Pentium Pro, Intel processors have used RISC-like inner cores to break traditional CISC x86 instructions into smaller steps. However, compiler writers and anyone else working with x86 assembly language have to use Intel's rather CISC instructions when developing software.
** This is just an example of RISC versus CISC. ARM's instruction set actually includes a SWP instruction which does indeed switch the contents of a register with a memory location in one atomic operation. It was added in the ARMv2a architecture, and is essential in multi-threaded programming.
Microsoft: Welcome back to PCs, ARM. Sorry about the 1990s
That's because those machines were from a time before Microsoft's monopoly damaged computing and set it back 5 - 10 yrs.
An Amiga 1200 (from 1991) compared to a windows PC from 1996
The Amiga ran at 14Mhz and had a 2MB RAM, the Windows PC I had ran at 166 Mhz and had 32MB RAM
- The Amiga booted up faster (seconds for a HDD boot into workbench)
- The Amiga was more responsive desktop
- The Amiga was more a more stable desktop (only games ever cause crashes...)
- The Amiga has sound that didn't stutter ALL THE GOD DAMN TIME
- The Amiga's graphics although lacked the 3D capabilities seems far faster - and didn't stutter ALL THE GOD DAMN TIME - at 1996 I saw nothing as impressive as 'state of the art'
- Everything cost far more in Windows than the Amiga, there were loads of software on the Amiga that just didn't exist for Windows (i.e music production.) and equivalents that did cost often 2 - 10 X the amount (for less reliable software)
Going from the Amiga 1200 -> Win 95 was like a step into the Dark ages.
Thank god for Linux.
"but then require complex combinations of mouse buttons and dragging just to save a file. Its menu-driven, drag-n-drop-based user interface was alien to anyone used to Microsoft's Windows."
There speaks somebody who is familiar with Windows and doesn't really know RISC OS that well, else you would know...
* Saving is a different operation, yes, but the RISC OS API has its own good points such as two-dimensional scrolling at the same time, the ability to give input focus to a window that isn't topmost (that pop to top behaviour is annoying).
* Wanna compare boot speeds?
* Full proper anti-aliasing on-screen in the late '80s, none of this CoolType stuff.
* The Windows contemporary with RISC OS in the beginning was version 3.something which was all sorts of horrid. My eyes hurt looking at it, and I frequently found dropping to DOS quicker than the Windows klutzy API.
* Check your dates. RISC OS, 1987. Windows 3.0, May 1990. Before Windows took on ground, kids were being taught stuff like WordPerfect 5.1. FFS, my Acorn had a fully WYSIWYG DTP package and multitasking GUI. No comparison, really.
Shouldn't we be teaching how to use computers rather than how to use specific ones? The company I work for recently changed to Ubuntu and it was a headache for those "programmed" to use MS Office...
Archimedes = Very good CPU, average chipset.
ST = Average CPU, average chipset.
Amiga = Average CPU, above average chipset.
Apple = Average CPU, average chipset.
It was horses for courses, if you wanted to do 3D rendering then the Arc was king. The fast CPU allowed for you to do a lot of things in software too, no need for hardware assistance.
But the Arc was too expensive, £799 at launch or £875 if you wanted 1MB. I remember paying around £500 or so for my A500 back then.
RISC OS, which bore little resemblance
"RISC OS, which bore little resemblance to what students would see and use at work when they left school."
Absolute rubbish.Windows 95 bore far more resemblance to RISC OS than to windows 3.1.
The kids who were moved from RISC OS to Windows 3.1 would have encountered Windows 95 when they left school.
(And apparently the official launch of RISC OS for the Raspberry Pi is this weekend).
Some aspects are still superior to Windows