Is Microsoft mismanaging Windows on ARM?

Windows 8

Jon Honeyball has serious doubts about how Microsoft is handling Windows on ARM

I’m having serious doubts about the way Microsoft is handling the ARM chipset family, which it called WOA (short for Windows On ARM) and is now officially called Windows RT.

Compare the engineering of Intel-based tablets today with that of ARM-based devices, and you’ll see that they’re like chalk and cheese. ARM rules the low-powered lightweight phone and tablet market while Intel-based tablets are huge, clunky devices with poor battery life. That’s why I was so excited when I heard about ARM support for Windows 8.

Compare the engineering of Intel-based tablets today with that of ARM-based devices, and you’ll see that they’re like chalk and cheese

Microsoft could finally capitalise on its cross-platform experience, which dates back to the first days of Windows NT – the choice is between high power consumption on a multicore desktop or laptop running Intel, or long battery life and low power consumption on one based on ARM. The latter could mean a new wave of ultra-low-power desktops.

Managed environments

Then came this crushing statement from Microsoft: “ARM-based tablets running Windows 8 are ideal for workers who are constantly on the go and need a long-lasting battery. ARM-based tablets use less power than 32-bit and 64-bit devices, and workers can rely on the extended uptime of these devices. Although the ARM-based version of Windows doesn’t include the same manageability features that are in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, businesses can use these power-saving devices in unmanaged environments.”

Unmanaged environments? What is Microsoft thinking? The greatest strength of Windows is its ability to manage remote devices, offering great control under the central management of a network domain.

Group policies, Active Directory, replication – these are the lifeblood of any sysadmin’s daily life, and perhaps the most important factors that have kept the Windows desktop OS at front and centre of the business workplace for the past decade.

Unmanaged environments mean cost, hassle and lack of control. It’s Windows Home Premium compared to Windows Professional. It’s toys compared to business tools. Yet Microsoft has decided that WOA shall be unmanaged, period.

I can’t believe that Microsoft is being so short-sighted. I’ve tried to work out the motivation, and the only explanation that makes sense is money: ARM devices will be cheaper than Intel devices, so a WOA licence could be cheaper than the price that Microsoft currently charges for business desktops. Maybe Microsoft is scared of cannibalising its own revenue stream as businesses switch to WOA instead of Intel Windows 8.

The greatest strength of Windows is its ability to manage remote devices, offering great control under the central management of a network domain

Not the right decision

Or maybe the whole “OEM preload only” means it will be impossible for companies to run their own imaging and distribution policies for ARM devices, despite them working just fine for a disparate collection of Intel PCs for years.

Perhaps policy control infrastructure takes too many CPU cycles and would harm battery life; this is possible, but unlikely. Maybe Microsoft knows that Intel will soon release a chipset that can compete with ARM and run in a managed environment (in which case why bother with ARM at all?).

Whatever the motive, this decision stinks. I suspect my first hunch is right, that it comes down to revenue and Microsoft’s compulsion to manipulate markets. If so, it might well come back to bite it.