Behind Intel's trash-talking about Windows on ARM

Intel has a strategy to keep users from defecting to ARM-based post-PC devices, but it may not work

Windows RT, aka Windows on ARM-based devices, is too limited to succeed, say many people who've tried out the Windows 8 consumer preview. However, you don't need an ARM tablet to simulate the Windows RT experience; just stick with the Metro part of Windows 8 on whatever touch device you have. So why is Intel CEO Paul Otellini talking publicly about how the transition from Intel chips to ARM chips for Windows will be such an uphill battle?

The only reason I can surmise is that Intel is very afraid of ARM-based tablets replacing PCs and is therefore publicly attacking the notion in vain hopes to squelch it. Calling attention to your competitor in such a negative manner almost always means you're scared -- and it bolsters interest.

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ARM threat goes beyond Microsoft's Windows RT
Intel has very good reason to be afraid, even if Windows RT ends up disappointing many in its first incarnation -- which I believe it will. Microsoft's trajectory with Windows RT is scarily similar to its failing strategy for Windows Phone, on which Windows RT is based. But Microsoft will keep plugging away and may over time make Windows RT simply "Windows" and succeed in its strategy of having Windows run on all sorts of devices, not just PCs.

Apple has already shown the way, with iOS on iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads. iOS runs on ARM only, but Apple sells many times the number of iPads as it does Intel-based Macs. Apple has steadily been converging iOS and OS X -- after all, iOS started as a subset of OS X. It's clear to me that Apple will in a few years merge the two operating systems across all its computing devices, letting it scale across them as it already does between iPhones and iPads.

Maybe that converged iOS X, as I call it, will run on both Intel and ARM devices -- or maybe Apple will dump Intel. I believe Intel fears such an outcome, and the fact that Apple warned Intel to fix its power-hungry chips a couple years ago, which Intel has now done, served as a wake-up call that Intel could end up dead as a dinosaur if nothing changed. Intel's Otellini all but admitted that fear, recently telling investors Intel was working on future chips that Apple "couldn't ignore" for use not only on future Macs but future iPads.

Microsoft's decision to support ARM in Windows 8 (via the Win RT version) was an even bigger shock to Intel, given that Windows powers 90 percent of all PCs. You can see Intel's worry: All the growth is in ARM-based tablets and smartphones such as iPads, iPhones, and Android smartphones, and the dominant power in the "legacy" PC market has now legitimized ARM as an Intel alternative.

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