Analyst: Microsoft wrestling with ARM as Windows 8 nears

Veteran Wall Street analyst Rick Sherlund of Nomura Research has issued a report following a series of investor meetings last week with Windows marketing chief Tami Reller, providing a glimpse into the status of Microsoft’s Windows 8 as the company gears up for its launch, expected later this year.

One of the more interesting tidbits is Sherlund’s speculation about the status of Windows 8 on the ARM architecture common in mobile devices, a new initiative for the Redmond company. ARM devices are considered key to Microsoft’s attempt to use Windows 8 to compete more effectively with the iPad.

The official word from Microsoft Windows chief Steven Sinofsky in February was that Windows 8 ARM devices “are still under development and our collective goal is for PC makers to ship them the same time as PCs designed for Windows 8 on x86/64.”

In his latest report, Sherlund says Microsoft’s use of the word “goal” is significant. In other words, it’s an aspiration, not a commitment. Here’s what the analyst writes …

Ms Reller was also quiet on our question whether Microsoft would possibly hold off shipping Windows 8 for Intel if the ARM version were lagging behind. However, there was a certain acknowledgement in the reply that suggested to us that this was a  question that might have hit its target.

We think Sinofsky wants the press (I am thinking of Walt Mossberg for example) to review the ARM version of the Windows 8 tablet vs the iPad, since this will compare much better in battery life and size than the Intel version. If the reviews were better on ARM, it might be awkward to release the Intel version by itself as the presumed answer from Microsoft to Apple. It’s like not putting your best foot forward when the world will be watching.

We think the issue with ARM is not so much with finishing the software, but getting the ARM component suppliers coordinated and optimized with Windows 8, which is a very  big issue in the ARM camp.

Microsoft declined to comment on Sherlund’s report, referring back to Sinofsky’s February blog post as its official statement on the matter.

Bloomberg News, citing unnamed people familiar with the situation, reported in March that Windows 8 would be released in October and that “there will be fewer than five ARM devices in the debut, compared with more than 40 Intel machines.”

Another tidbit from Sherlund’s report: Microsoft is standing by its decision to get rid of the Start button in Windows 8 desktop mode, but it appears to be planning some kind of navigational tutorial to alleviate the inevitable confusion.

  • Guest

    MS seems to have no clue about how or where the ARM version is going to play. If they didn’t know that upfront, why did they bother investing considerable amounts of money developing/testing it and publicizing that?

    Frankly, a version of Windows on ARM that doesn’t run legacy Windows apps really doesn’t strike me as “Windows” at all. It’s likely just going to result in customer confusion and dissatisfaction. Why don’t they call it Metro, thereby seperating it from Windows and reinforcing what it does: run Metro-style apps only? That seems more likely to be viewed as “new” versus another version of Windows and a crippled one at that.

    No wonder Apple’s stock price keeps going to the moon…

    • Bob

      “No wonder Apple’s stock price keeps going to the moon…”

      Now more than twice as valuable as MS. Amazing reversal of fortunes.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    I’m never one to fear monger, but I have to say the tenor of some of the reviews of the mixed UI from some long-time supporters is, well, alarming.

    And to hear at the end of this that the only thing that seems to be coming out in response to that is a navigational tutorial is even more distressing.
    And it sounds that where Windows 8′s UI could be cleanest and strongest is on ARM rather than Intel. So the prospect of that one lagging at ship just seems like even more worrisome news.

    I sure hope I’m wrong, but I can’t say right now I have a good feeling about this all.

    • Guest

      MS is dead in tablets before they even start. Too little, too late. They just haven’t accepted it yet.

  • Gangadhar Payyavula

    MS is going to make it, they will put that beautiful and elegant Metro UI on every device you can think of. I am posting this from my Windows 8 PC, I love it, I am sure every body will love it, but it may take little effort for they to get used to it..  

  • Guest

    No real surprises here, this has been brewing for months.  

    Not good for MS if they have to hold to 2013 for tablets.  Not good at all, at that point they’re competing against ipad4, and ipad3 at $399.  That’s gonna be rough, no two ways around it.  And what’s making it worse is the pretty mixed reviews the desktop edition has been getting.