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

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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?

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