Windows 8 on ARM: Not so vaporous after all?

A Cnet report claims ARM-based Windows 8 devices will be ready when the Intel versions are, but not all the facts agree

Last week, I suggested that the lack of even demo units of Windows 8-based ARM tablets meant that we may not see any ARM tablets, at least not when Windows 8 debuts later this year. A statement to the Reuters news agency by ARM's CEO that he would rather wait 6 to 12 months to get it right before releasing such a creature gave such speculation some credibility.

Today, Cnet's respected Blog Network author Brooke Crothers reports -- citing unnamed sources -- that two ARM implementations of Windows 8 are "stable" and will be provided to developers in February. One of the sources told Crothers that he "had some hands-on time with a high-profile device" from a similarly unnamed major PC manufacturer.

Microsoft has been working on porting Windows to ARM architecture tablets for years. At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft demoed the Windows 7 interface on three ARM processors -- one each from Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and Nvidia. The TI machine ran Word and printed a Word document on an Epson printer. The Nvidia machine ran PowerPoint. At this year's CES, TI and Qualcomm both showed demo machines.

One of Cnet's unidentified sources claims that the Metro interface-only ARM version of Windows 8 should be ready at the same time as the Intel version. "There's no reason to believe that the release of Windows 8 on ARM and Intel platforms should be staggered," that source said, using wording that didn't commit to simultaneous release, either -- which is why I remain skeptical that the ARM version of Windows 8 will be ready when the Intel version is. The Intel-compatible version of the Windows 8 developer preview has at least a five-month head start on the ARM version. With the public beta version of Windows 8 for Intel systems due out in late February, it's very hard to imagine the ARM version could catch up that fast.

There's another hard-to-believe claim in that Cnet report: One of the anonymous sources says that Office "is fine" on ARM. If that means the desktop version of Office, that's big news, as Microsoft has said that "legacy" Windows 7 apps would not run on the Metro-only version of Windows 8 for ARM. Maybe Microsoft now believes it can deliver such backward compatibility. Maybe Microsoft is porting the forthcoming Office 15 version to ARM. Maybe "Office" in this context means the very light version of Office already available for Windows Phone smartphones, not the "real " Office. Or maybe the source is wrong.

In this rumor-loving industry, we'll only know when the product ships. Until then, all eyes will be on the public beta next month.

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