Intel exec shares more on Microsoft's Windows 8 plans

An Intel Senior Vice President shared more details about Microsoft's Windows 8 this week. To the Microsoft doghouse for you, Intel
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

There was nothing too terribly revealing in Intel Senior Vice President of Software and Services Renee James' comments about Windows 8 during Intel's shareholders meeting this week. But even the fact that James called Microsoft's next-generation operating system by its codename will, no doubt, be ill-received by the powers-that-be in Microsoft's Windows division.

According to reports, James told attendees of the May 18 meeting that there will be multiple versions of Windows 8 -- something that's in line with Microsoft's current multi-SKU Windows strategy (and something that seems likely to continue, based on early Windows 8 leaks, as reported by WinRumors.com earlier this year).

James also told shareholder meeting participants, as The Register reported, that there will be two classes of Windows 8 PCs: Ones running x86/x64 chips that will be able to run legacy applications, and ones running ARM processors that will not. The x86/x64 version will include a Windows 7 mode, she said, that will enable this legacy-app support.

James' statement doesn't contradict the little that Microsoft execs have shared about the company's future Windows plans. Here's a clip from Microsoft's January 5, 2011, press release, which outlined Microsoft's plans to support system-on-a-chip (ARM) processors with the "next version of Windows."

"Microsoft Corp. today announced at 2011 International CES that the next version of Windows will support System on a Chip (SoC) architectures, including ARM-based systems from partners NVIDIA Corp., Qualcomm Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc. On the x86 architecture, Intel Corporation and AMD continue their work on low-power SoC designs that fully support Windows, including support for native x86 applications. SoC architectures will fuel significant innovation across the hardware spectrum when coupled with the depth and breadth of the Windows platform."

During CES, Sinofsky said that “normal” Windows software will continue to run on Intel’s SOC with the next version of Windows without requiring any rewrites, according to my ZDNet colleague Ed Bott. But he never promised "normal" Windows apps would run on ARM. Instead, Sinofsky only said Microsoft will insure that Microsoft Office will run on ARM SOC systems going forward. He said Microsoft will have Office running natively on ARM, which we Microsoft watchers have taken to mean that Microsoft is developing a version of Office for ARM. (If Sinofsky hadn't said "running natively on ARM," I might have assumed he meant that Windows 8 ARM PCs would be able to access Office Web Apps in the cloud from their tablets.)

The "four Windows SOCs for ARM" referenced by James in the Register's report don't necessarily mean four different Windows 8 SKUs. I take this more to mean that there will be an NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and AMD (?) ARM systems-on-a-chip designs.  Intel has an ARM license, but no plans to use it.

As we Microsoft watchers have widely expected, the ARM versions of Windows 8 are designed for tablets/slates and other devices where low-powered chips would be appropriate. (Remember Microsoft's leaked slides from April 2010 about Windows 8? There were "lap PC," "workhorse PC" and "family hub PC" design points? ARM-based PCs would most likely be those lap PCs....)

So all in all, not a whole lot of new Windows 8 from Microsoft's friends at Intel this week -- beyond the "Windows 7 mode" for legacy-app support -- which may be something akin to Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 PCs (perhaps?). But enough to put Intel in the doghouse for mentioning anything at all about the "operating system that shall not be named," no doubt.

In case you're wondering, Microsoft is still declining to comment on anything to do with Windows 8 or Windows Next that company officials have not said previously.

Update (May 19): It seems the Windows management has changed its mind and decided to comment after all. A spokesperson sent the following statement:

"Intel’s statements during yesterday’s Intel Investor Meeting about Microsoft’s plans for the next version of Windows were factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading.  From the first demonstrations of Windows on SoC, we have been clear about our goals and have emphasized that we are at the technology demonstration stage.  As such, we have no further details or information at this time."

The spokesperson said Microsoft would have no further comment beyond this statement, leaving us to wonder exactly which parts of James' claims were incorrect. As I know from person experience, just because Microsoft says something you've said is "wrong," it doesn't mean the bulk of what you said is right.

I'm still expecting Microsoft to make available to testers a first beta or CTP version of Windows 8 at the upcoming "Windows Developer Conference" (the renamed PDC, happening in mid-September this year). And I'm still not hearing that Microsoft plans to deliver the ARM-supporting versions of Windows 8 before the legacy-supporting versions. My contacts continue to believe that Microsoft is on track to release to manufacturing all versions of Windows 8 in the summer of 2012, in time for PC makers to get it on new systems for holiday 2012.

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