Windows RT: A Flop for ARM
Steven is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows on ARM -- aka WoA, aka Windows RT (officially) -- has a high chance of becoming a flop. The reason: Microsoft has crippled Windows RT from a compatibility standpoint and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) is on track to manufacture a comparable, if not better, product to ARM Holdings’ (NASDAQ: ARMH) designs. By the end of the year, consumers will have the opportunity to compare nearly identical products side by side and I believe most will opt for Intel’s offerings.
All Windows Are Not Created Equal
The allure behind Windows RT is that ARM-based products will offer sleek form factors, excellent battery life, and run Windows. However, Windows RT is not the same operating system as Windows 8, which explains the lack of an 8 in the name. It will have a similar experience and feature set to Windows 8, but the main distinction is that it will not be able to run x86/64 (Intel/AMD) software. In other words, every application running on Windows RT will have to be reprogrammed from previous x86/64 versions or built entirely from scratch. This makes the barrier of entry higher for software developers than other platforms, especially if adoption rates remain subdued.
Microsoft’s long-term vision is to establish a seamless computing experience between mobile and personal computing counterparts, similar to what Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has done with their platform. The difference is that Microsoft is attempting to create an ecosystem where mobile computing and personal computing share exactly the same platform and thus, access to the same applications. A tablet that offers the same compatibility as a PC running Windows has very powerful implications. With Windows 8, Microsoft is aiming for a more robust user experience between devices than what Apple has to offer; I have difficulty seeing where Windows RT fits into this equation long term.
While not impossible to develop two platforms that integrate seamlessly, Microsoft has a difficult task at hand. Apple has successfully managed to develop and integrate platforms for both x86 (Mac OS) and also ARM (iOS). However, much of that success could perhaps be attributed to Apple’s ability to attract a large developer community by creating products with mass appeal. Hardware is a major component to this equation, but the real key to sustainable platform success is based on the availability of useful and innovative software. On that basis, Windows RT will face an uphill battle against its Windows 8 counterpart because it lacks the developer community.
Since Windows RT has been announced, Intel debuted their first x86 system on a chip (SoC), Medfield, destined for the smartphone/tablet/ultrabook space. The performance and power characteristics are comparable to the ARM Cortex-A9 – the current de facto standard for smartphones. Granted, it isn’t a perfect comparison because ARM’s variant is a dual core and Intel’s a single core. But when you consider this first of its kind chip from Intel has been reviewed on an Android device not optimized for x86, this offering holds great promise for future generations.
While not guaranteed, it appears likely that Intel’s Clover Trail, the dual core version of Medfield with better graphics, will be available around the same time Windows 8 devices hit shelves. Using the Xolo X900’s (a Medfield smartphone) price as an indication, it is extremely likely there will be products from both ARM and x86 that are comparable in price, size, performance, and even smell, but will not have the same operating system.
It remains unclear to me why Windows RT was developed in the first place, especially when you consider it will not offer the seamless computing experience Microsoft is aiming for. Most of the time, choice is a great thing for consumers, but perhaps not at the expense of fragmenting the world’s most popular operating system.
If you were comparing two nearly identical Windows devices side by side, where one was ARM and the other Intel, which would you choose?
TopDownTrends owns shares of Intel and Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Intel, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Intel, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.