Microsoft blasts Intel's talk of Windows 8 as misleading, inaccurate

Trying to take on ARM, Intel claims next Windows won't run older software on some tablets

Microsoft today called comments made by an Intel executive about the next version of Windows "inaccurate" and "misleading."

One analyst said the bickering between Microsoft and Intel did not signal a breakup of their long-standing partnership.

"In 2011, it's hard to tell who is a partner and who is a competitor," said Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst with Forrester. "Look at HP. They're very careful to say that Microsoft is an important partner, but they left Microsoft at the alter when they went to WebOS [for their tablets]."

Microsoft's comments today were in reaction to reports Wednesday from Intel's annual shareholder meeting, where Renee James, the general manager of Intel's software and services group, said that Windows 8 -- as most have dubbed the next version of Microsoft's operating system -- would not run older Windows software on devices powered by ARM-based processors.

"On ARM, there'll be the new experience, which is very specifically around the mobile experience, specifically around tablet and some limited clamshell, with no legacy OS," James said, according to The Register. "Our competitors will not be running legacy applications. Not now. Not ever."

Intel has an interest in downplaying Windows 8 on ARM; this week it said it will battle for the mobile processor market with a future processor technology of its own.

"Anyone who has an Intel-based or an x86-based product, will be able to run either Windows 7 mode or Windows 8 mode," James added. "They'll run all of their old applications, all of their old files.... There'll be no issue."

Microsoft took exception to Intel's characterization of Windows 8 on systems-on-a-chip (SoC) processors.

"Intel's statements during yesterday's Intel Investor Meeting about Microsoft's plans for the next version of Windows were factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading," Microsoft said in a statement Thursday.

"From the first demonstrations of Windows on SoC, we have been clear about our goals and have emphasized that we are at the technology demonstration stage. As such, we have no further details or information at this time," the company said.

Microsoft said much the same earlier this year when it announced it would build Windows for SoC processors, including those based on architectures created by U.K.-based ARM. The new Windows for SoC will be Microsoft's big push into the tablet market, where it's lagging far behind rivals Apple and Google.

Epps echoed Microsoft's big-picture public stance, noting that Microsoft has stressed the next version of Windows will run on multiple SoC designs, not just those based on ARM's architecture.

"It's broader than just ARM," Epps said of Microsoft's publicly-discussed plans. "Microsoft's not parting ways with Intel. It will make Windows 8 run on Intel's SoC, too."

Even so, the demonstration Microsoft put on at last January's Consumer Electronics Show focused on Windows running on ARM designs. While Steven Sinofsky, who heads Microsoft's Windows group, gave a nod at the time to Intel's current Atom processor, he saved his enthusiasm for ARM-based SoCs.

Among the chip makers expected to compete for Windows tablet dollars are Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

"I don't know whether Microsoft will support legacy apps, all the various Windows executables, in Windows 8 on all SoCs," said Epps. "My impression is that they will. But I don't know if that's a realistic expectation."

In January, Sinofsky only promised that Microsoft would create a version of Office that runs natively on the SoC edition of Windows 8.

But even if Microsoft makes a break with the past -- as did Apple when it launched the iPad -- and doesn't support "traditional" Windows software on tablets in 2012 and beyond, it won't be the end of the world, Epps said.

"While the consumer expectation is that [the next version of Windows] will work with all their stuff [on a tablet], they are also eager to embrace something new," she said. "They realize that the pace of technology demands that."

As examples, Epps cited RIM's decision to not support old BlackBerry smartphones with the BlackBerry Bridge software for its PlayBook tablet, and consumers' eagerness to adopt Apple's iPad, even though that tablet can't run Mac software.

No matter what it does, Microsoft has a shot at making it big in tablets, Epps said.

"The fact is, Windows is the number one operating system people want on a tablet," Epps said, referring to a survey Forrester published two months ago after polling 3,800 people. "That may have surprised people, but that's what the data shows."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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