Microsoft Slams Intel's Windows-On-ARM 'Leak'

Software maker says chip giant's statements about Windows 8 roadmap for tablets and phones are "inaccurate."

The Wintel alliance is showing some cracks. Microsoft blasted longtime partner Intel after an executive at the chipmaker claimed Redmond's plan to release a version of Windows 8 for ARM-based mobile processors would create compatibility nightmares for users and developers. Adding to the intrigue, the exec's presentation has now vanished from Intel's Web site.

Microsoft, in a statement, called remarks by Intel senior VP Renee James "factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading."

The hubbub began Tuesday when James took the stage at Intel's investor meeting in Santa Clara, Calif. James said Microsoft would have to develop numerous forks in Windows 8 for ARM's system-on-a-chip (SoC)because the various component vendors that rely on the architecture all have their own, unique implementations.

"You can run the same application between different versions of our architecture—between Atom, between Xeon, between Core—which is not the case for our competitors in the ARM ecosystem," James reportedly said.

Intel rivals that produce mobile processors based on ARM's SoC design include Nvidia, Texas Instruments, and Qualcomm. The latter's Snapdragon is the chip of choice for many Google Android-based tablets and smartphones. ARM also is in Apple's iPad chips.

James also said Windows 8 running on ARM-based chips would not be backwards-compatible with apps written for older versions of Windows, presumably including Windows 7.

"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," said James. "Our competitors will not be running legacy applications. Not now, not ever."

Microsoft said James' statement was, at the very least, premature—though the software maker did little to clarify the situation. "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,” a company spokesperson told InformationWeek, in an e-mail.

Microsoft first announced its plans to develop a version of Windows 8 for ARM at the Consumer Electronics show in January. Since then, it's said little about compatibility issues. "It's a complicated topic," said Microsoft CFO Peter Klein, when asked in March if Office would run equally well on the x86 and ARM versions of Windows 8.

"It's probably best not to sort of go into that detail, obviously it's something we're focused a lot on, and I think as we have more details to share on that, we'll be able to do that for people. But, that's obviously a key part of the work that we're doing in preparation for the next version of Windows," said Klein, at a Morgan Stanley tech conference in San Francisco.

Microsoft has not set a release date for Windows 8, though speculation has ranged from late 2011 to mid-2012. The confusion is surely causing headaches for IT execs looking to map out a table strategy.

Many will be hesitant to deploy tablets that don't natively support their companies' existing fleet of Windows business applications. But with more and more workers demanding tablets, others may not wish to wait until Microsoft and Intel get their story straight, or for ARM, whose reps did not respond to a request for comment, to weigh in.

Instead, they may opt for the iPad or Google Android-based slates. A host of tools have emerged that can securely connect those devices to Windows infrastructures or cloud-resident apps, and IBM on Wednesday told InformationWeek exclusively that it has launched a program to lease iPads to business customers along with enterprise-class deployment services.

Adding to the mystery of it all: Intel appears to have pulled a copy of James' presentation that was previously posted on its investor relations Web site. A company representative was not immediately able to explain the move.

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