Microsoft Porting Windows to ARM But Drivers Will Take Time

Microsoft Porting Windows to ARM But Drivers Will Take Time

One of the big announcements at CES this year will be from Microsoft; the company plans to announce (and possibly demonstrate) a consumer-centric version of  Windows running on ARM processors. The company's decision is a powerful endorsement. Other Microsoft products like Windows Embedded and Windows Mobile support ARM products but the software giant has never released a non-x86 mainstream version of Windows.*

It'll be quite awhile before we see an actual shipping OS. Microsoft has already sunk months of work into the endeavor, but vendor driver support is expected to take quite some time. There's also the question of software support—one reason the non-x86 versions of Windows NT ultimately died is because Microsoft didn't provide service packs or maintain application parity between the various RISC architectures and IA-32.


ARM's upcoming Eagle processor will outperform the Cortex-A9--but will also add certain features that the company previously avoided on account of their power consumption.

We know that the new version of Windows will target a range of devices from slates to notebooks but Redmond has yet to reveal if the next-generation product is based on WP7, Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows CE. A number of analysts are betting that what Microsoft unveils at CES will be an early version of Win 8 running on ARM hardware—but if that's true, it means the ARM-compatible version of Windows is at least two years out.

A 2013 launch timeframe would give vendors two important options not currently available. First, ARM's Cortex-A15 is expected to ship in the 2012-2013 timeframe. According to ARM, the A15 will offer up to 5x the single-threaded performance of the current Cortex-A9, integrate a more-powerful FPU, run at speeds of up to 2.5GHz, and scale from 1-8 cores.

If the A15 is delayed, device manufacturers would still be able to opt for Cortex-A9 processors built on thoroughly mature 28nm technology. According to certain industry vendors we've spoken to in the past it's already possible to build an ARM SoC with sufficient CPU and GPU power to run a modern version of Windows but the hypothetical SoC's power consumption would make it less than ideal for a modern smartphone.Two years from now, that shouldn't be an issue.

Architecture Showdown Fast Approaching

ARM has made no secret of its plans to challenge Intel from mobile devices to low-end servers once the A15 arrives. In the past, Intel could count on Windows compatibility as a significant positive, at least as far as netbooks and notebooks were concerned. Windows ARM could potentially negate that advantage provided it isn't crippled by anemic software support. At that point, ARM and Atom would have to slug it out based on performance, power consumption, and battery life. In our previous discussions with the company, ARM representatives have indicated they believe the company's two decades of experience designing low-power processors and strong vendor relationships will be sufficient to compete in emerging mobile markets.

*Windows NT 4.0 supported Alpha, MIPS, and PowerPC but was never intended for mainstream/consumer use. The IA-64-compatible version of Windows XP doesn't count at all.
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Better headline: Microsoft announces intention to discontinue Windows Mobile 7 - the OS on that phone they want you to buy. :)

No doubt Intel is looking for clean trousers about now (well, actually since the MS/ARM deal was announced in July). This gives ARM another possible future path to the desktop without relying on Android or Linux to become popular enough to carry them there (if they're not already by the time Win8 finally makes it out).

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It depends on what you mean by "popular enough," IMO. The fanboys who first began talking about the mythical year of "Linux on the desktop" were utterly deluded; there's a preponderance of evidence that Microsoft has more-or-less permanently "won" the traditional desktop / laptop space.

Tablets, slates, and certain smartphones are an entirely new battlefield. I think Linux/Android have a good chance of winning market share long before MS has a product to ship into these segments. "Linux on the tablet" seems far more likely to me than Linux on the desktop ever did.

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>> ; there's a preponderance of evidence that Microsoft has more-or-less permanently "won" the traditional desktop / laptop space.

Because they're better at....

I'll accept any answer other than "buying developer tools/companies", which is the truth and why they have their monopoly.

I love arguing with you, but I can't believe you said "permanently". I know from some of the serious pauses in thought that you've given me, you're smarter than that. Imagine if someone told you "IBM permanently won the desktop computer war". "AT&T permanently won the communications war." , "Kodak permanently won the photography wars.", "Standard Oil permanently won the energy war.", etc.

Nothing's permanent in technology.  It just takes some giants longer to fall.

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While your arguments are very valid 3vi1 until someone in Linux can bring out a OS that across the board behaves more like Windows in all areas that semi-permanency, at least still stands. Yes they may have bought or paid there way, but they still stand where they are controlling over 80% of all the desktop/laptop ground in this space. However; I as one, and I am sure you as well hope for more, I can still admit that as it stands now (of course that could always change tomorrow), it is still the current truth. Of course I could win the lottery tomorrow, and be a millionaire as well. Don't over read that statement it is just the current truth.

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rapid1:
until someone in Linux can bring out a OS that across the board behaves more like Windows in all areas

Few people making Linux distros want to go backwards.  Lindows/Linspire "behaved more like Windows" starting in 2001, and died a slow and horrible death as it was generally shunned for sliding away from freedom and towards Microsoftness.

The best things about Linux are those which are diametrically opposed to the Windows way.  The trend with Linux is toward new ground.  Jolicloud, ChromeOS, Unity, etc. are trying out new desktop paradigms.  Linux doesn't have to copy Windows because when new things work well on Linux, they'll get copied by Microsoft.

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3vi1,

Sure they are--which is great. The only one of those projects that has a chance in hell of succeeding (if we define "success" as gaining a substantial slice of mind/market share) is ChromeOS. You're unconsciously assuming that I'm equating Microsoft with technical superiority or innovativeness because MS has (and in my opinion, will continue to) own the desktop/notebook market.

Back off and look at your own statements. IBM dominated computing for over 30 years. Kodak was a major force in film for something like *ninety* years. AT&T--Ma Bell--clocked in something like 80 years. In a cosmological sense none of these are permanent, but as Keynes observed, "In the long run, we're all dead."

The question of why Microsoft "won" is academically interesting but currently useless; the market has changed far too much for us to draw assumptions from that period. My entire point, in fact, is that these new device markets are the grounds where third-party OS products and technologies have a chance to establish themselves as dominant forces.

As for Linux, it's a huge success on the server. It had some respectable netbook successes and could be big on tablets / slates. On the desktop it's never been anything but a commercial failure. Why? Because no one save fanboys wanted to deal with the hassle of getting Linux images built properly for $299 desktops. Because computer users who can barely wrap their minds around Ctrl-Alt-Del didn't like it. Because for years, the idea of trying to get a wireless router or printer running flawlessly under Linux made me long for a nice relaxing proctology exam and/or castration.

Ironically, your claim that Linux is superior to Windows actually reinforces my point. Even if I grant that desktop/notebook Linux is better than desktop/notebook Windows, Linux has essentially gone nowhere in these areas. That's proof enough that familiarity and ease-of-use trump technical excellence 9/10.

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You make a lot of good points. The only one that makes me want to shout is where you list "ease-of-use" separate from familiarity. Linux is much easier to use when you consider what most people do with their computers.

How to use a web-browser? That's exactly the same in Linux, except without the exploits and wonder when a popup tells you it found a virus on your C: drive.

Installing software? That's easier in Linux! It's easier to find! No separate installers! No choosing directories! Automatic dependency installation! Freedom to install as many applications as you want and try them all to see which you like best!

Familiarity, as you point out, is the harder nut to crack. As long as every system comes with Windows pre-loaded, and people aren't educated about the alternatives, it is an extremely uphill trek - even for a product that give you more freedom. That's not to say it can't happen though.

Update:  Hmmm...  looks like a lot of people are about to become familiar with Linux:  http://mashable.com/2010/12/27/vladimir-putin-free-software-by-2015/

 

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"The only one that makes me want to shout is where you list "ease-of-use" separate from familiarity."

Ease of use and Familiarity are two completely different things. Let's say you work as a data entry clerk. You've used the same program for 10 years. It takes you 15 arcane steps to add someone to the system--you have to move back and forth between completely different areas; there's no way to cut-and-paste fields from one area to another. After 10 years, you are undoubtedly completely familiar with this process. But is it easy-to-use? Absolutely not.

Now we introduce a new system. It takes five steps to add someone to the system, data fields can be C&P'd, and you can Alt-Tab between the various menus you need to access. Is it familiar? Not at all. But is it easier-to-use? Absolutely.

Here's the trouble, as far as I can see. Because all programs are initially unfamiliar and many people are incredibly leery of computer use to begin with, it takes very few application differences to send them running off. The reason Apple has succeeded as much as it has isn't because OSX is so inherently better, IMO, but because Steve Jobs is obsessed with keeping things simple. If you feel as though performing a task on a computer involves 15 steps across a tightrope and your Apple-friend shows you how to use a finger and a few buttons to do the same thing, the benefit is so juicy that it makes sense to try and bridge the gap.

Your statements regarding the benefits of application installation are pure Linux lover (I say this with affection). In 10 years, I've never met anyone I'd consider to belong to the group of "most people" who actually wants to explore or learn new applications. Most people don't understand the applications they're (barely) familiar with; the last thing they want is to change them.

Aside from the difference between familiarity and ease-of-use, much of my point rests on the idea that Android and iOS are building the sense that their own UIs are the "default." Microsoft will presumably argue that people are already familiar with Windows and try to push to keep Windows as the mindshare leader--but the Windows GUI, IMO, simply doesn't fit the concept of tablet computing worth a damn. (WP7 is a much better mobile GUI but lacks key functions, while W7 has a full set of compatible programs and applications, but doesn't have the appropriate GUI. Yayfun!)

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>> Ease of use and Familiarity are two completely different things.

It wasn't clear that you were considering "true" ease of use, since you seemed to be saying Windows had the advantage in that area - which made me think youw were talking about ease of use purely related to familiarity.  My whole point was that they were two separate things, so we're in definite agreement there.

>> I've never met anyone I'd consider to belong to the group of "most people" who actually wants to explore or learn new applications.

Games are applications.

If you're like me, you probably have a lot of reference books on your shelves - even multiple ones for the same subject (I can see four on programming with Windows MFC from where I sit - lol; useless and obsolete).  You could have bought only one book per subject and therefore artificially limited what you could accomplish, but that would be like settling on one application.

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