If you’re a CPU enthusiast, chances are you’ve heard by now that Microsoft is planning on releasing Windows 8 on x86 and on ARM. Which tablet manufacturers will be relatively happy with. But you, the consumer, not so much.
It reminds me of the old days, back when RISC and x86 were throwing punches. Back then you could take a RISC-based processor like the DEC Alpha and run Windows on it, as Microsoft did indeed support it … with a special version of NT at least. But a fat lot of good that would actually do you. Applications not directly built for the Alpha’s architecture were set to run in a compatibility mode, which rarely worked. In fact most installers wouldn’t even install. So you could have Windows on your non-x86 processor, but you couldn’t get many applications.
And now Intel is pointing out that (besides them not going into the ARMs race) just because Windows 8 runs on ARM doesn’t mean that your “legacy” applications will. Or even that new applications will. Only applications built to directly support the ARM architecture in use will be guaranteed to run on that ARM version of Windows. And how many different versions of ARM will there be for that matter?
It’s a no-brainer to a software or hardware engineer.
But it’s not something that most end-users are likely to grasp right away. Not until they’ve purchased software that won’t work on their Windows+ARM tablet. Then, maybe, they’ll start reading the little compatibility section on the software box. Maybe.
You can be sure that not every software producer will bother supporting ARM. Most in fact likely won’t, at least not until ARM proves itself. Which many (like Intel) question if it even can, as the architecture is no where near as refined as x86 is these days. It’s rather like going back in time.
So one day you may be able to get yourself an ARM-based tablet running Windows, but it’ll be bare of actual software. And other than (hopefully) a few Windows essentials like Microsoft Office, and some gimmicky apps, it’ll likely remain that way. In fact you’ll be more likely to see those wacky open-source projects supporting ARM than you will professional software products. And games? Nuh-uh.
Microsoft of course vehemently objects to this reality portrayed by spokespersons of the likes of Intel. But in attempting to substitute their own reality, Microsoft has yet to actually state how this will in any way play out differently than it has in the past that we’ve already seen when Microsoft met RISC. Just calling someone a big fat liar doesn’t actually mean that their pants are indeed on fire.
And meanwhile, Intel – and others – continue to develop low-power all-inclusive micro-platforms for x86, like the Intel Atom, capable of running just as well and close to as cheaply in tablet form as ARM, while natively supporting all of your Windows (or Linux, or potentially even Mac as that’s done on x86 these days) software. (The same can be said of micro-servers as well.)
Which raises an obvious question: If you can make a full-blown x86 Windows tablet affordably and effective, then why would anyone want some gimmicky ARM tablet with limited software capabilities????
With or without Microsoft Windows 8.
Heck, give me my x86-based Linux or Windows cellphone running a full-blown OS and I’ll never care about ARM again. ARM has its places, but unlike the x86/RISC war of the past, ARM is not as suited to modern computing as x86 this time around. ARM still needs a lot of work just to catch up. Or, frankly, maybe it’s just better to leave it in the smaller less-intensive devices that it’s already in and we can just call it a day without repeating history. But then, I guess, where would be the fun in that?
So Microsoft will no doubt continue on the path to ARMing Windows for bare. And when customers don’t have any ARM-compatible software to install on their ARM-Windows products, Intel will certainly be smirking with an, “I told you so,” right on the tip of the tongue. And Microsoft, will, of course, blame everyone but themselves.
Which makes me wonder… What ever did happen to that old DEC Alpha Windows NT4 machine that used to gather dust under my desk? And did any of those third-party ActiveX control and MFC/C++ compatible library developers ever get around to supporting the Alpha? They claimed they would as soon as Microsoft did. Oh how little they knew…