Intel CEO Paul Otellini on Thursday said that the company has an advantage over its rival ARM on Windows 8 for tablets because of decades of developing x86 chips that support the Windows operating system.
“We think it’s a differentiator,” said Otellini at the company’s investor meeting in Santa Clara, California. “We have the advantage of the incumbency, the legacy support.”
Intel’s only competitor in the Windows 8 tablet market is ARM, whose processors ship in most tablets today. ARM may have an entry point to the Windows tablet market, but faces a tough road ahead considering Intel’s history with Windows, Otellini said.
Windows grew up on x86 chips, but Microsoft is now also releasing Windows for the ARM architecture to make a dent into the tablet market. The upcoming Windows 8 OS will have a touch-based user interface and will come in three versions — Windows RT for ARM, and Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro for x86 chips.
Intel plans to offer a new low-power Atom chip code-named Clover Trail, which will be released at the time of Windows 8 later this year. Otellini said PC makers are designing 20 Windows 8 tablets based on Intel chips.
No ARM-based device makers have publicly announced Windows tablets, though Microsoft is working with ARM-based chip makers Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to bring Windows 8 compatibility to tablets and PCs.
Playing the application compatibility card, Otellini said tablets with Intel’s upcoming chips will support older applications written for previous versions of Windows, which is important for CIOs.
“There’s going to be some compatibility issues for other architectures,” Otellini said.
Just by pressing one button on a tablet, users will be able to jump into legacy Windows mode for those who need an older user interface, Otellini said. The Windows 8 tablets on Intel chips provide a snappy response, Otellini said.
Many application compatibility issues have been raised in the past. Intel last year claimed that legacy x86 applications would not work on Windows on ARM, a claim that was shot down by Microsoft. However, Microsoft later said that Windows on ARM would not be able to run or port existing x86 applications.
Microsoft is trying to raise the appeal of Windows on ARM by bundling basic Office applications — collectively called Office 15 — with versions of Windows RT. Microsoft Office will not be included with Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro.
There are also hardware compatibility issues at stake. For example, older printers and cameras may not work with Windows on ARM devices as drivers are currently compatible only with x86 chips, and companies may be unwilling to rewrite drivers for ARM.
Intel also hopes to bring tablet features such as touchscreens to its upcoming class of thin-and-light laptops called ultrabooks. Top PC makers expect to release ultrabooks based on Windows 8 in the future.
ARM could not immediately respond when asked about Otellini’s comments.
Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org