Microsoft's Windows 8 looks on track for an October release, but there will be just five ARM-based devices available at launch according to unnamed sources.
Windows 8 is a milestone release for Microsoft: it represents the first mainstream Windows platform to support non-x86 instruction sets. While earlier versions of Windows have supported ARM, MIPS, PowerPC and other architectures, these have been limited to professional or embedded builds like Windows CE and Windows NT.
With Windows 8, however, desktop users will be offered a choice of architectures for the first time. While a standard x86 build will be available to buy at retail, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and original design manufacturers (ODMs) will be able to procure a version of Windows designed specifically for the ARM instruction set architecture.
That's a major move on Microsoft's part: the company has long been accused of participating in a duopoly with chip giant Intel, in which the pair are known as 'Wintel' for the industry-standard pairing of Microsoft's Windows operating system on Intel's x86 processors. Expanding the supported platform list to include ARM, at a time when the British low-power microprocessor specialist is looking to fight Intel in mobile and server chip markets, is a serious threat to that previously peaceful relationship.
Since Microsoft announced that Windows 8 would support ARM chips, however, things have become slightly less exciting. The company has confirmed that Windows 8 on ARM won't feature any form of abstraction layer to offer compatibility with existing x86 applications, meaning users' existing programs won't work. Worse still, the company has confirmed that it will be requiring OEMs to enable UEFI Secure Boot functionality, preventing users from installing alternative operating systems
Coupled with Microsoft's heavy push towards the Metro User Interface (UI,) a design inspired by work carried out on the Windows Phone platform, it seems clear that the company is positioning Windows 8 on ARM as an alternative to Android on tablet computers. This is despite several companies, including ARM licensee and chip giant Qualcomm, demonstrating ultra-portable laptops based on Windows 8 and ARM processors at the Computex event last year.
For those who have been hoping to see ARM-based slim and light laptops with all-day battery life and Windows 8 under the hood, today's news won't be welcomed: Bloomberg
quotes unnamed sources 'with knowledge of the schedule
' as confirming that a mere five ARM-based devices will be available at Windows 8's launch in October.
The unofficial October launch date, which Microsoft has not confirmed as it 'does not comment on rumour or speculation
,' is one thing. The fact that just five ARM-based devices will be available is quite another, and with three of those tipped to be tablets it's clear that hopes for ARM-based laptops could be crushed come the official launch date.
There is one glimmer of hope, however: one of the anonymous sources quoted by Bloomberg suggests that the lack of launch devices is due to strict quality control standards set by Microsoft. In other words: there may not be too many devices available at launch, but what there is should be impressive indeed.