With the BUILD Conference in full swing, much of the talk surrounding the tech industry right now has to do with Microsoft. And as of late, quite a bit of the attention has surrounded Microsoft’s partnership with ARM. Under the terms of the deal, Windows 8 will work with ARM processors, paving the way for mobile-device makers to use Windows in a new way.
Ever since Microsoft announced its partnership with ARM in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, there has been some debate over the viability of such a deal. Some detractors have said it’s bad for companies and, especially, consumers. Supporters, on the other hand, said that the deal could very well be the best move Microsoft has made in years. In the end, there’s no telling which side will be right until ARM-based devices running Windows finally hit store shelves. (Microsoft is expected to release Windows 8 in the second half of 2012.)
Until then, it’s important for everyone-supporters and detractors, alike-to understand that the partnership between the companies on Windows 8 matters in a big way. And the deal can affect the industry far more than some people think.
Here’s a look at why the partnership between Microsoft and ARM matters:
1. It could end Intel’s death grip on the Windows market
Over the years, Microsoft and Intel have been close allies on Windows. Intel currently has an overwhelming market-share lead against Advanced Micro Devices, and the chances of that changing anytime soon seem slim. But with ARM now joining the fray, it appears that Intel’s death grip on the Windows processor market might eventually come to an end. ARM is a major agent of change in the chip market, and it might just show that once again when Windows 8 launches.
2. It means mobile devices are coming
ARM has a dominant position in the mobile space, thanks to a host of companies using the chip technology in their products. Considering that, it likely won’t take long for Windows 8-based mobile products to hit store shelves once the software launches. Even Microsoft has said that tablets will play a key role in its plans with Windows 8. Expect ARM to be a major reason Microsoft gains at least some market share in the mobile space.
3. Other form factors are also possible
Although much has been made about ARM‘s ability to help Microsoft in the mobile space, it’s quite possible that devices boasting other form factors might also come with ARM processors. Netbooks and laptops, for example, could eventually sport ARM processors. Sure, it’s not the company’s focus now, but who can say that definitely won’t change?
4. It puts Intel on notice
As mentioned, Microsoft’s decision to allow ARM chips to work with Windows 8 could eventually end Intel’s death grip on the Windows ecosystem. But the deal also puts Intel on notice. No longer can it expect Microsoft to be its top ally in the computing space. And if it doesn’t continue to improve its offerings, it might just lose market share far more rapidly than it wants to believe. Microsoft’s ARM deal should be a wake-up call to Intel.
5. Battery-life considerations
Both Intel and ARM are competing in the mobile space. However, ARM has done a much better job of appealing to vendors. The reasons for that are numerous, but one of the main selling points of ARM processors is their battery management. Mobile-device batteries simply don’t drain as quickly on ARM-based devices as they do on Intel products. Therefore, looking ahead, ARM might just find itself in a good place to steal mobile market share from Intel on Windows-based tablets.
The New Relationship Suggests Microsoft Is Open to Change
6. More competition in the mobile space
Looking around the tablet space right now, there isn’t all that much competition when it comes to operating systems. Customers will find iOS, Android and RIM’s BlackBerry tablet operating system. WebOS, a former competitor in the market, has been all but discontinued by HP. But now that Microsoft is working with ARM to offer Windows 8 to tablet vendors, all that changes. Next year, there will be more competition in the mobile space. And as history has shown, more competition is usually good for consumers and enterprise users, alike.
7. Are even better prices coming?
When Windows 8 launches, and Intel-, AMD-, and ARM-based devices hit store shelves, pricing might be even more favorable than it is right now. After all, with more competition on the component side, vendors will be able to get better pricing. And when that happens-especially in the computing space-those savings are passed on to customers. There’s no guarantee, but at this point, it seems rather likely that ARM could help drop prices in the Windows ecosystem even more.
8. Better security, perhaps?
Windows has long been criticized for its security troubles. Malicious hackers around the world write malicious payloads that wreak havoc on computers. But with ARM, is it possible that such security problems won’t be such a big deal? After all, software solutions designed for x86 architecture won‘t necessarily work with ARM–based devices. And considering malicious hackers have been writing their malware for other platforms, at least in the short term, ARM-based devices might prove safer than their counterparts.
9. It shows Microsoft is growing
If nothing else, Microsoft’s partnership with ARM seems to indicate that the software giant is willing to change. Over the years, some have viewed Microsoft as a tyrant trying its best to keep the industry as is. But by partnering with ARM, Microsoft has seemingly acknowledged that times are changing, and it needs to accept that. Is this personal growth we’re seeing from Microsoft’s management? It certainly seems that way.
10. It affects AMD in a big way
All this talk of ARM and Intel forgets the impact Microsoft’s deal might have on Advanced Micro Devices. That company has long been the also-ran in the Windows marketplace, and is showing no signs of changing that. But now that ARM has joined the fray, AMD could be affected quite significantly. If vendors opt for ARM-based devices, AMD might be left out in the cold. Don’t expect too many major changes to AMD’s business in the short term, but over the next several years, its position in the space could decline quite rapidly if ARM makes a splash on Windows 8.