Microsoft Windows 8 on ARM: Ready for Showtime?

As we head toward the availability of Windows 8 in Q4, the amount of information available about X86-based platformsclip_image001 dwarfs that of ARM-based platforms from NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments. One example is the Consumer Preview (CP). The Windows 8 CP on X86 (Intel/AMD) was and still is openly available for any consumer on the planet to try, without exaggeration. In contrast, there’s Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) where, without an NDA, no one can even touch a system. There can be a few reasons for that, including secrecy, the unique ARM software images required, it just isn’t ready yet, or a combination of all. With approximately six months until launch, is Microsoftready for Windows 8 on ARM? Let’s take a look at a few areas. Software Compatibility Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) platforms will run any newly developed Metro-based application and come pre-installed with MS Office, sans Outlook. The platforms will not run older software like a game like a Disney’s ToonTown, a personal finance package like Quicken or even Apple‘s iTunes. How will consumers know what they can and cannot run? Microsoft will have to notate a difference between operating systems (WOA versus X86), train and market it so it’s not a liability. The X86 processor camp is surely planning their OEM, channel, and consumer messages and training to demonstrate why only X86-based platforms provide a 100% compatibleexperience and why that is superior to WOA. We’re six months from launch and channel partners and OEMs should know this already to prepare for the holiday onslaught. Hardware Compatibility Microsoft has written a lot about this on their Building Windows 8blog, but the questions still remain on specificity. Specifically which hardware peripherals work well, which ones work but without all features and which ones just don’t work. This means USB printers, webcams, scanners, digital cameras, SD-cards, game controllers, displays, headsets, speakers, etc. Sure, drivers are being written now and will be updated well after launch, but without anything definitive, what are OEMs and channel partners to plan? The channel needs to prepare appropriately with the right peripherals that are compatible with WOA systems. Like software compatibility, you be assured that the X86 camp will be sure to highlight that they are 100% compatible and call out or question WOA systems. I would even imagine a website that shows which peripherals aren’t compatible or don’t run well just to get the point across. You can bet that stories will be told and retold about the “first netbook” days where the Linux-based devices had a 30%+ return rate like in this article by CNET’s Brooke Crothers. We’re six months from launch and channel partners and OEMs should know this already to prepare for the holidays. Marketing Commitment to WOA Once the facts about the hardware and software compatibility are established, then the channel and consumers must be educated so that WOA isn’t a liability. Everyone who works at brick and mortar retail and e-tail must be effectively trained with the facts. If consumers hear anything that indicates even a potential compatibility issue, they will flee. As I have explained here, Windows is a different situation from iOS in terms of compatibility. Windows for 20 years has stood for backwards compatibility and that’s the consumer expectation. This will take a lot of time, money and effort by Microsoft. Why Microsoft? In the X86 world, Intel and AMD pay for most of the retail MDF (market development funds). If not, why else would the processor be the first line item on a retail shelf tag? Without Intel and AMD, the only company with sufficient funding is Microsoft. Neither ASUS nor Acer would pay the retailer moreto take a WOA SKU. Also, neither Qualcomm, NVIDIA nor TI has the business model to fund additional WOA MDF. Retail Shelving Related to the channel marketing spend, Microsoft will need to assure that WOA units actually get shelved at the appropriate prices and merchandised in the appropriate way. In PCs, OEMs, Intel and AMD all plan with the channel on the seasonal SKU lineup.  The lineup must have “line logic” meaning that every increase in price must be rational and make sense.  Again, the X86 camp has decades of experience here and will attempt to strand WOA SKUs at lower price points.  This could, if successful, establish that WOA SKUs cannot play above $299.  That would be a massive setback for WOA SKUs and it would take a long time to crawl back to decent price points.
Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.