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Is Microsoft mismanaging Windows on ARM?

Posted on 15 May 2012 at 16:12

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.

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User comments

Not sure of the point of Windows RT

I am not sure of the point of Windows RT. ARM processors are more efficient but Intel Ivy Bridge and Haswell processors are surely improving matters.

Windows 8 tablets could differentiate themselves from iPads and Android devices by being able to run all of your PC software (agreed some apps would be rubbish on a touch screen).

Windows RT will only run Metro apps which makes it like an iPad without the thousands of apps.

I think my next tablet will be an Intel based Windows 8 device.

By ronwatson71 on 15 May 2012

EAS

I understand the Windows on Arm/Windows RT will be managed by Microsofts Exchane Active Sync tech which has been extended.

All this does seem to be reinventing the wheel and unnecessary.

Wayne T Taylor (RamblingGeekUK)
ramblinggeek.co.uk

By KryptosSol on 15 May 2012

EAS

I understand the Windows on Arm/Windows RT will be managed by Microsofts Exchane Active Sync tech which has been extended.

All this does seem to be reinventing the wheel and unnecessary.

Wayne T Taylor (RamblingGeekUK)
ramblinggeek.co.uk

By KryptosSol on 15 May 2012

iPads are popular

iPads have the same management paradigm as Windows RT tablets - EAS. This hasn't stopped the popularity of iPads entering the enterprise so no reason that Windows RT ones wouldn't be?

Anyway ARM devices seem to be heavily targeted as consumer/media devices. Seems to me that Intel tablets are being pushed for enterprises.

By TheBigM72 on 15 May 2012

CE, RT two letters and not worth 2 bob

Perhaps this shows how clueless they are
"ARM-based tablets use less power than 32-bit and 64-bit devices"
Arm is a 32 bit processot. What are they thinking they are 8 bit or something?
Having experienced windows CE , I would never touch another windows product on an embedded processor again.

By _mik3 on 15 May 2012

Group policies, Active Directory, replication

This is why my wife's brand new school laptop takes 5 minutes to boot and has no local storage at all. All user data has to be kept on a user supplied flash disk. Sleep and hibernate states are disabled.

In the hands of competent administrators these tools are great. My company uses them quite successfully. However there are many companies and government organisations that make a complete pigs ear of it. The popularity of BYOD is in part driven by years of failure by network administrators, and suppliers need to acknowledge the failures as well as the successes.

By tirons1 on 16 May 2012

The way that Arm Processors are developing, they'll soon be approaching Ivy Bridge performance.I see a convergence where by 2020 ARM and Intel will be the competitors.I'm not sure where that will leave AMD.I think win 8 will be the next Vista and it will be win 9 before Microsoft see's the error of their ways.

By Jaberwocky on 16 May 2012

Bigger issue

Personally I think the lack of compatability kills it dead. Why have an ARM based Windows tablet and no have access to the full Windows catalouge of software?

Apple managed a pretty good transition from PPC to Intel so why cant Microsoft do the same by either virtulizing x86 when necesary?

By JStairmand on 16 May 2012

Strategy?

I'm not sure it matters. I think Microsoft's strategy here is that any corporate that is big enough to use a lot of policy will go for a virtual desktop delivery to tablets. This even makes sense of the Metro interface. Nasty on a traditional desktop, but will look great on an ipad running a virtual desktop.

By dconf on 16 May 2012

I think Mr H is misrepresenting the situation

There is a clear division between WoA and Windows 8 on Intel.

The former targets the rather popular 'consumer' Tablet market, while the latter is aimed at the 'Corporate \ corpulent' sector. Rather than 'mismanaging' MS seems to have pretty coherent strategy.

WoA devices will offer less brute-force compute-power than their W8 compatriots, but will have better battery-life, and will be cheaper.

Hopefully these devices will offer very similar levels of performance to iPads and with similar screen quality etc. and at competitive \ lower prices. If not they will fail. If MS and partners fail in this, they will cede the mid to upmarket domestic Tablet market to Apple. Lets hope they don't fail then.

In the corpulent sector, the requirements are different to the consumer or domestic market. Wheras at home I target on pure price \ performance, at work I consider durability, service contracts and manageability on the Corporate network: the latter being, perhaps, most important.

I fully expect that W8 tablets and convertibles will cost £100 or so more than equvalent WoA devices, just as DELL's Optiplex and Precision ranges tend to slightly more costly than their Inspiron equivalents. The upside will be 100% manageability, and guranteed service levels from suppliers, plus the ability to run any x86 Windows Apps we've got in the business. Sounds sensible to me.

As an aside I caught a bit of some medical Soap last night where they'd gone 'paperless', in a cardiac Ward, with predictable hilarious \ deadly consequences. Many hospitals do use Tablets, but they use custom systems. In 'Hopelessly silly' they were floursihing iPads, just like Jake Humpries.. Laugh.....I nearly had a hernia!

By wittgenfrog on 16 May 2012

A more 'balanced' view....

Anyone who wants a different 'Expert Opinion' might like to look at http://www.winsupersite.com/article/winrt/windows-
rt-isnt-windows-143098

By wittgenfrog on 16 May 2012

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Jon Honeyball

Jon Honeyball

Jon is one of the UK's most respected IT journalists and a contributing editor to PC Pro since it launched in 1994. He specialises in Microsoft technologies, including client/server and office automation applications.

Read more More by Jon Honeyball

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