ARM-based Windows ‘too little, too late’: Analyst

Microsoft Corp.’s announcement last week that its next Windows operating system for the desktop will be based on ARM processors is a necessary move, but don’t expect it to be enough to bring the software giant up to speed in the mobile market, said one analyst.

“They have to do it, but the problem is it’s going to be way too late,” said Mark Tauschek, director of IT research with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.


Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at the Consumer Electronics Show last week that the successor to Windows 7 — as yet unnamed — will run on ARM chip architecture, a system-on-a-chip (SoC) design, in addition to the x86-type chips from vendors Intel Corp. and AMD Inc., on which its desktop OS has traditionally run.

Tauschek said given Windows Phone 7 OS was released as recently as late 2010 and a whole three years after the first iPhone, one can extrapolate that timeline and see that Microsoft’s ARM-based operating system will be “really late to the party.”

Tauschek also thinks Microsoft should have thought about porting Windows Phone 7 to a tablet form factor a long time ago. “Microsoft would have been wise to say we’re going to get something out there running on an ARM-based processor … they could do that with Windows Phone 7 and then adapt it later on,” he said.

Al Gillen, program vice-president of system software with IDC Corp., thinks that while porting Windows to ARM is not exactly a stunning development by itself, Microsoft’s commitment to the fast-growing architecture is a big deal.


“In recent years, the company has fallen to a level of relative complacency when it comes to attacking emerging market opportunities, leading to lost market share and forcing the company into catch-up mode when it does engage in these markets,” said Gillen.

Meanwhile, Google’s Android 3.0 has already been shown on ARM-based tablets.

Such an early demo of the next operating system by Microsoft in advance of a projected 2012 release raises questions of compatibility for apps and data built for x86 architectures, fears Gillen. “Further, is this a precursor for server-based support of ARM-based machines?” he added.

Microsoft has offered little other detail on the Windows 7 successor. Gillen thinks the pace is likely part of a new systematic approach to limiting information disclosure, as was done with the development and launch of Windows 7. But the development cycle for the mobile space is not at all comparable to that of the desktop space, warns Gillen. 

“Comparing the development cycle (in the mobile space) to the PC development lifecycle is akin to comparing the maneuverability, agility and practicality of a Prius and a full-size SUV when negotiating tight city streets,” said Gillen.

As for what Microsoft’s move to ARM-based processors means for Intel and AMD, Tauschek thinks there is no reason for the chipmakers to be worried. “They might be concerned in terms of a little bit of migration away from desktops and laptops to more mobile devices like tablets, but it’s not going to entirely cannibalize that market,” said Tauschek.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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