ARM—and its chipvendor partners—have rattled Intel. We’ve known that for a while, but Intel’s twitchiness over its competitor reached a new high at its analyst meeting last month.
The vehicle for that was Microsoft’s decision to create versions of Windows 8 that will run on ARM-based systems as well as Intel’s and those from AMD, the announcement of which dates back to January’s Consumer Electronics Show.
Renée James, Intel’s senior vice president and general manager for its Software and Services Group, told analysts that ARM-based systems will not run “legacy” software.
“Our customers, or anyone who has an Intel-based or an x86-based product, will be able to run either Windows 7 mode or Windows 8 mode. They’ll run all of their old applications, all of their old files—there’ll be no issue,” she said.
“On ARM, there’ll be the new experience, which is very specifically around the mobile experience, specifically around tablet and some limited clamshell, with no legacy OS. Our competitors will not be running legacy applications. Not now. Not ever.”
And this comment led Microsoft to rapidly contradict its long-time partner for being “factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading.” Ouch!
The question I have to ask here, though, is whether either of these positions actually means that much? I just don’t think this is a big deal.
As James acknowledged, this is mostly about the tablet market—and that market is shaping up to have some significant differences from traditional computing.
When Apple launched the iPad, the big mistake many of us made—myself included—was to initially compare it against a MacBook or a netbook, and base our conclusions on some enterprise-led criteria. Could it kick the laptop out of my carry on?
In fact though, as we all quickly realized, the iPad is a consumer device and primarily a content consumption device—and a superb one at that. Moreover, people are tending to load standalone apps onto their tablets without much regard for legacy software. And where they do need to translate material from one platform to another, well there’s an app for that too. For just a few bucks as well.
(For example, I’ve got the excellent Documents To Go to edit Microsoft Office files on my iPhone—certainly to the degree that I would want to on a smaller form factor mobile device.)
What really matters—to John or Jane Q—is whether that tablet will run Angry Birds.
The reality here is that both Intel and Microsoft have positions in the traditional desktop and even laptop that are not likely to be challenged—as well as their HPC and server businesses—but are under pressure to expand their businesses into new spaces, the tablet being one of the more high profile.
The Microsoft-ARM deal makes plenty of sense in that respect—seriously, can you see ARM throwing massive resources into a battle with Intel over desktops?—but Intel’s response here suggests that a company full of brilliant engineers and marketers hasn’t quite got it. Yet.
Indeed, slapping ARM took attention away from where Intel is making significant inroads cutting power consumption on the Atom platform to make it still more competitive in mobile devices.
Now that does matter.