Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

Summary: Will Windows 8 on ARM be available only as something preloaded on new tablets and PCs from selected vendors? We still don't know for sure.


All the recent back and forth over Microsoft disallowing the installation of other operating systems on Windows 8 ARM tablets seems to me to be obscuring a bigger and more interesting question: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

In other words, unlike the situation with Windows 8 for Intel -- where testers and users can download Windows 8 bits and install them on tablets and PCs of their choice -- will Windows 8 on ARM be locked to specific hardware?

I know some Microsoft watchers are assuming this will be the case, but Microsoft has not said anything on this officially. I re-asked today just to be sure, and was told by a spokesperson: "All we’ve said is the ARM based partners we’re working with – we haven’t yet talked about the go to market plans."

(Some may recall an Intel exec blabbed a while back and said that those announced ARM partners -- Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments -- were each building their own custom version of Windows for their processors and that these various versions wouldn't be compatible with one another. Microsoft execs denied that Intel's portrayal of the situation was accurate but never said specifically why it was wrong.)

The fact that Microsoft didn't release a Windows 8 on ARM developer preview build back in September alongside the Windows 8 on Intel one doesn't necessarily mean that the ARM version is OEM-only. It might just be lagging the Intel build in the development cycle. Nor does the fact that Microsoft is continuing to ban its ARM partners from allowing anyone to play with prototype Windows 8 ARM tablets, as they did just recently at the Consumer Electronics Show. That just could be the Windows division's hope to maintain some element of secrecy/big reveal as the Windows 8 PR momentum builds.

Microsoft officials have mostly remained mum as to whether Microsoft plans to roll out Windows 8 on Intel and Windows 8 on ARM simultaneously. (I noticed one company official did tell Computerworld last week that this is, indeed, the game plan.) But that hasn't stopped various OEM partners from telling the world that they plan to have Windows 8 on ARM tablets on store shelves later this year.

Some would argue Microsoft has to make Windows 8 on ARM an OEM-only products, since this is the first time the Softies will be offering commercially a Windows client on ARM. There aren't existing Windows-based ARM tablets and PCs on which users should be able to just install the new Windows 8 bits, say those in this school.

But there are other ARM tablets out there where testers and users could try to install the Windows 8 on ARM bits, others argue. What about the Blackberry Playbook? HP TouchPad? Samsung Galaxy Tab? Heck, even the iPad? The question is whether Microsoft is trying to block them from doing so to head off potential reports of poor user experiences. Remember: Control is the watchword when it comes to Windows 8, in terms of everything from how information is shared, to how, when and where the product is demonstrated.

Microsoft's ban on allowing testers and users to install Linux on the coming generation of Windows 8 ARM devices isn't the only place where Windows 8 on Intel and Windows 8 on ARM diverge. As Rafael Rivera noted on WithinWindows this week, Microsoft isn't requiring Windows 8 ARM PCs resume in two seconds or less -- unlike the case for Intel-compatible Windows 8 PCs.

What's your take? Will Windows 8 on ARM be available only preloaded on select tablets -- and later, maybe in 2013 on ARM-based laptops? Should it be?

Topics: Processors, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

    User experience is king. Trying to appease all critics just ends up with a mess.
    Jeff Kibuule
    • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

      @dagamer34 Yes, I did see that pattern in "Start Page" blog on B8 weblog. Hundreds of users and professionals were against a compulsory replacement of start menu with start page (at least on desktops) but MS side stayed at their position. I am sure this will be one of the most important critics W8 will receive (along with the limitations of Metro apps i.e. HTML+WinRT).

      I thought the main purpose of that blog is to get early feedback and use that to correct things. But now I tend to think it has been a marketing attempt.
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @wmac1 - blog comment sections are hardly representative polls. Lots of us love the new Start screen, but unhappy people usually post more.
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @wmac1 They already fixed that last part.. the new Metro/WinRT architecture diagrams show HTML+Javascript, C#, and C/C++ as interfaces to WinRT. I suspect that's still all .NET-style managed code, not native, but it does suggest that there's been some positive feedback over the notion of all Metro apps forever being just HTML + CSS + Javascript.
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @dave: WinRT is all native code. It's just exposed to the rest of the OS via ECMA-335 (i.e. CLR-compatible) metadata rather than via Microsoft's COFF/CEF binary format or COM's IDL.

        The ECMA-335 metadata is FAR more descriptive than older metadata formats and has the added benefit of permitting .NET tools to interface directly with and correctly marshal data types back and forth with full fidelity.
    • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?


      Agreed, i'd rather them keep the experience good across the board! The last thing I want to see is people loading Win8 on hardware designed for a crappy OS like IOS or Android only to have them complain the experience sucked so they decided to switch back. Thats bad press for an OS that's lightyears ahead of the current crop of mobile Operating Systems...Windows Phone 7 excluded.
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @rob.sharp@... You could have simple said I love all things MS and hate everything else. I would have been just as relevant.
  • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

    eevry ARM system is unique; different numbers of different ARM cores with different integrated GPUs with different glue between them - it's an utterly different style of CPU and platform development from x86. That means each OEM or ARM platform supplier will have to work with Microsoft to get Win 8 on ARM working on their platform. That doesn't mean there couldn't be a 'fat binary' type installer that would target multiple tablets, but I can't see the PC makers selling naked tablets without an OS, so new tablets will come with Windows on already. And given that old tablets won't meet the logo specs - no physical Windows button for a start - I can't see an OEM like HP or RIM working with Microsoft to make Windows 8 run well on their old kit and I can't see Microsoft doing that work themselves (they don't have the internal expertise, necessarily). Also, the majority of these tablets will, I think, have SIMs and 3G and we're into carrier ecosystem sales. Think about how low a % Microsoft always says PC upgrades are of Windows sales; it's going to be a far lower % that would consider ARM tablet upgrades. It's not core enough to spend that much time on, for an inferior experience. On the other hand, there's bound to be a skunworks build of it, for comparison internally if nothing else.
    • Good points

      What do you think will happen if/when ARM-based laptops/PCs are available, say in 2013 or so? Do you think MS can/will change its tune? MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @Mary Jo Foley - tablet vs. laptop vs. desktop vs. TV vs. etc. are just form factor considerations.

        There is no standard ARM-device architecture as there is for PC's.

        Therefore, all ARM devices are vendor specific and highly specialized compared to PC's.

        An interesting question is "will ARM device, OS & SW vendors eventually get tired of maintaining a broad range of proprietary device architectures and instead get together and bash out a standard architecture as the PC industry did?"
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @Mary Jo Foley The form factor doesn't change the integration/support issues; ARM is such a modular architecture compared to x86. Maybe it becomes a live issue for Windows 9 ARM ;-) I'm thinking back to the earliest comments about the differences in functionality with ARM/x86 Windows, about the ongoing question about the desktop on ARM and the way x86 apps will NOT run on ARM and I'm mostly concluding that ARM Windows is a different approach and a different set of functionality. More TV-like, less tinker-friendly.
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @Mary Jo Foley
        I think not much of a problem here. They now have notebooks (specilized PCs) with Windows 7 Starter. Having an (specialized PC) Arms Tablet is no difference, to me.
      • ARM based PC's and laptops

        @Mary Jo Foley ... that's the scenario EB fails to consider in the 'to-ing and fro-ing'.

        M$ would like to slide in:
        1. Locked-down W8 METRO secure on ARM tablet.
        2. 'Choice' of security and METRO on INTEL PC/laptop.

        However as ARM grows in power and METRO is accepted then the slide will end at ... locked-down W8 secure METRO on the majority of computers ... and they will be able to write 'converging and simplifying to the prevailing standard model of Windows on ARM in Windows 9'.

        Then we will be confronted with the '30% tax' on all digital media and the transition to Apple's model will be complete. Yuk.

        The end-game consumer ecosystems will be:

        A. AMAZON and Android (Fire).
        B. Apple and OSX (AIR).
        C. M$ and ARM-METRO.

        Choose your silo.

        It begins to look like Windows 8 desktop will be the last of what people are calling the 'PC era' OS's. Pity.
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @Mary Jo Foley
        There is one critical factor to look for here: Remember CHRP? The Common Hardware Reference Platform that was going to allow us to build our own PowerPC-based PCs as easily as we do with x86 stuff? Looked pretty promising but it died when Steve Jobs killed the licensing of Mac OS almost immediately upon his return to Apple. The other OSes on offer (OS/2 Warp, BeOS, Linux, and even NT) weren't enough to keep up enough interest and the initiative fell apart.

        Until we have something like CHRP to act as a core platform for ARM-based systems, producing much of anything would be very tough for anyone not operating at the OEM level.
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @epobirs I remember CHRP, I mean PPCP, I mean CHRP pretty well... I designed a CHRP machine (PIOS One) back in the day. <br><br>Thing is, in modern times, there's no reason to define an architecture at the bit level. Even CHRP really didn't... it had some hard register definitions, but handled everything else in Open Firmware. UEFI has a similar byte code, to allow architecture independent drivers in flash. <br><br>But even better, look at Windows itself. Windows since NT has had its own Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL). That's why Windows runs on PCs, why it ran on PowerPC, Alpha, MIPS, etc. (sure, they needed ISA ported code, but they did not need special versions of the OS written for the specifics of each machine). Look at PowerPC... Apple wouldn't put MacOS on early PPC machines, or PReP standard machines. They could have, but they figured they could get all the Mac-like hardware they wanted put into CHRP, and not have to bother. <br><br>But Windows has run on non-PC architecture x86 machines for a long time. Even going from classic PC to ACPI PCs was moving to a different HAL only. <br><br>The issue today on ARM is that everyone's got their own custom bootloader, and drivers in there specific to that piece of hardware. This complicates community-developed Android releases, and makes it really difficult to put other OSs on existing ARM machines from any vendor (HP, RIM, Apple, etc). Moving to a standard bootloader like UEFI with an actual HAL to support all the on-device specifics (at least at a basic level) would allow a one-size-fits-all version of each ARM-based OS to run. Which may be one of things Microsoft is worried about.. they don't want to make it easy for Windows tablet users to get frustrated and just load Android.

        As for the other OSs on CHRP, most never existed. Power Computing worked with Be to get BeOS booting on pre-CHRP Mac Clone hardware, but Be never did a CHRP version. IBM may have had alpha version of OS/2 on CHRP, but there was never a release. Linux in 1997 wasn't the Linux of today, but even if it was, there's still only so much of a market for desktop Linux. So yeah, the whole open PowerPC thing depended on MacOS.
      • @epobirs .. I agree for the most part

        .. and this may well spell trouble, long-term, for Redmond if they think a lock-out of the OEM ecosystem works while simultaneously trying to force feed a new OS platform to app' developers. If either of those groups gets a fractional scent the W8 on ARM platform is tanking ... be prepared for the biggest exodus since ... well ... The Exodus, from the platform and an industry backlash against Redmond. (I'd guess the Vista kerfuffle will look awful tame in comparison). <br><br>Worse still, if the platform bunks and nose dives - sales-wise, then all the sabre rattling from Redmond could ultimately result in MS falling on its own sword. Therein is the real issue: MS could possibly afford to gamble like this if they had an innovative, ground-breaking, new, industry leading offering to sell the masses (a la iOS & iPhones, OSX & Mac). Personally, i can't see W8 on a locked-down ARM tablet (...or .. heaven forbid .. a desktop PC) being any of those things. <br><br>What i do predict, in regards W8 on locked-down ARM tablets, is a crash 'n burn. If Redmond believes it can run rough shod against the toughest law in the land ... no, not the DoJ ... the court of public opinion, than they are in for a h3ck of a fright, come RTM time for the first ARM/W8 Tablets.<br><br>CONCLUSION:<br><br>W8 on locked-down ARM tablets: big gamble<br><br>W8 & locked-down UEFI on desktops: recipe for major disaster at Redmond<br><br>(n.b all IMHO .. of course)
    • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

      Yeah, just look at the ARM's CPUs and all the variations:

      You can have different cores like ARMv6 or ARMv7, and then with VFP v2,v3, (v4 this year), sometime with or without VFP-Lite... *PLUS* with or without NEON.

      Fun time to support them all...
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @Samic plus Nvidia/Imagination/PowerVR/MALI/Other GPU, plus shadow core/big-little, plus integration plus a few other variations. Broadcom, ST-Ericsson, Qualcom etc will be major but differentiated platforms, let alone all the roll-their-owns...
      • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

        @Samic Yes, I think ARM has created a huge mess here. Previously we had x86 and x64 to support where each of those two families had almost same instruction sets and compatible binaries. Even for x86 and x64 we had separate Windows DVDs. Same here we need separate Windows copies and separate sets of drivers etc. I can say it is a huge mess.
  • RE: Will Windows 8 on ARM be an OEM-only product?

    Any thoughts on whether or not W8 will be able to be installed on an HP TouchPad?