Microsoft reportedly has a plan to avoid consumer confusion about the differences between Windows 8 tablets based on ARM and x86/x64 chips: Allow very few ARM-based tablets onto store shelves.
When Windows 8 launches, which is expected later this year, there could be fewer than five ARM-based devices available and only three of those would be one-panel touch tablets. Meanwhile, more than 40 different Windows 8 machines using Intel chips will be available at launch, according to Bloomberg. The report did not specify if Intel chips meant the x86/x64 chip architecture (also used by AMD) or actual Intel-branded processors.
Speaking with anonymous sources, Bloomberg said the reason there will so few devices using ARM technology is that Microsoft is holding Windows 8 ARM-based devices to "rigorous quality-control standards." Also, the company reportedly wants to control the number of ARM devices available during the initial Windows 8 launch.
New Territory for Microsoft
Microsoft is forging into new territory with a version of Windows designed for ARM devices. ARM-based chips are widely used in smartphones and tablets since they tend to be more energy efficient than x86/x64 processors, but Windows has historically been designed primarily for Intel chips.
Many critics, including myself, have wondered how Microsoft will differentiate between ARM- and x86/x64-based tablets since they offer different experiences. ARM-based devices will rely primarily on Microsoft's new touch-friendly Metro interface in Windows 8, although the devices will also include the traditional Windows desktop. The problem, however, is that legacy Windows desktop software will not work on ARM devices. So downloading AOL Instant Messenger for Windows 7, for example, should work just fine on an Intel-based Windows 8 tablet, but not a device using an ARM-based chip.
Who Will Produce Windows 8 ARM Tablets?
The fact that Microsoft is reportedly allowing just a few ARM-based Windows 8 devices onto store shelves (at least at first) suggests the company is being careful not to confuse users. But which companies will be producing those early ARM tablets is still an open question.
There are reports that Asus and Nokia are planning Windows 8 ARM tablets. Hewlett-Packard may also produce an ARM tablet, but will focus on Intel-based devices first. Dell, Lenovo and Samsung, meanwhile appear to be going with Intel-based tablets.
Bloomberg's report also says Windows 8 will be ready for launch "around October." That claim is in line with other reports, as well as Microsoft's past Windows release schedules. Windows 7 and XP were both released in October, while Vista was released to consumers in January.
[Go to PCWorld's Windows 8 special section for all the latest news on Microsoft's newest operating system.]