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Windows tablet maker Acer (whose Iconia W500 tablet is pictured here, running Windows 7) is unhappy with Microsoft about mandatory hardware requirements for Windows 8 tablets.  (Source: Laptop)

Microsoft has long spelled out supported chipsets and hardware with Windows, but partners are afraid the company will spell out stricter requirements for tablets, a la Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 handsets require an ARMv7 CPU or better, like the NVIDIA Tegra (+chipset) shown here.  (Source: Ubergizmo)
Careful requirements will ensure better experience, but may cut selection

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) must be thinking "Here we go again!" as it braces itself for another round of criticism from customers and partners over the hardware requirements it plans to impose with Windows 8.  This time around, the noisiest voices don't appear to be on the laptop/desktop side, but rather seem to be coming from the tablet community.

I.  Hardware Restrictions?  What Restrictions?

Judging by the broad selection of Windows 7 notebooks and desktops versus competitors like Apple, it sure doesn't appear at first blush like Microsoft is very picky with what its partners can make.  But in an effort to avoid the compatibility issues that afflicted Vista, Microsoft did indeed impose certain clear limits on what chipsets it deemed "compatible" with Windows 7.  

Similar limits were opposed on Vista, but they proved too loose, and performance suffered on budget machines.

With Windows 7, some of these requirements were relaxed slightly for netbooks and small notebooks, but in other cases Microsoft firmly stood its ground.  Windows 7 was a modern operating system and required hardware partners to provide modern components.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft took an even stricter approach.  Hardware partners had to deliver devices with an ARMv7 or better CPU, at least 256 MB of RAM, 8 GB of Flash, a 800x480 pixel screen, Multi-touch, an FM Tuner, Wi-Fi, GPS, and a 5 MP camera with LED flash.  Hardware partners could surpass these requirements -- but they had to at least meet them to get licensed.

The new frontier with Windows 8 is tablets.  And with that frontier, are coming new restrictions, according to Microsoft.  Microsoft announced to hardware partners to expect incoming restrictions, sometime over the course of the next few months.

The critical question is what those restrictions are.  Some speculate Microsoft may merely opt for a Windows 7 approach, telling tablet makers what chipsets it plans to support.  Others worry that Microsoft may go in the direction of Windows Phone 7, explicitly spelling out the exact hardware check list that partners must meet.

II. Hardware Partners are Upset

New Windows Phone 7 handset maker Acer Inc. (TPE:2353) was among the tablet makers to voice frustration at the planned restrictions for Windows 8.

At Computex 2011 in Acer's home nation of Taiwan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer J.T. Wang commented to Bloomberg, "They’re really controlling the whole thing, the whole process. [Hardware partners] all feel it’s very troublesome."

Mr. Wang did not choose to name any other component manufacturers or tablet makers who expressed similar, thoughts, but his comments clearly indicate that he's talk to other hardware partners and heard similar frustrations.  

The comments are significant coming from Acer, the world's third largest computer manufacturer in 2010.  Acer has seen sales slump recently, but hopes to improve its fortunes with a pair of tablets -- the Android Honeycomb (3.0) A500, priced at $450 USD and packing a Tegra SoC from NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) and the Windows 7 W500, priced at $550 USD and packing a Fusion processor from Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD).

Acer plans to release more tablets in the near future, including, potentially, designs powered by Intel Corp.'s (INTC) Atom processor.

Jefferies Group Inc. predicts that this year 70 million tablets will be sold, up from 18 million in 2010.  The firm predicts that 2012 will see sales of 158 million units globally.  

At the same time third parties like Google Inc. (GOOG), makers of the Android operating system, and Microsoft are expected to cut into Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) industry-leading market share.  Apple controlled about 90 percent of the market in 2010 with its iPad.  That total is expected to drop to about 64 percent by the end of this year, and 41 percent by 2012.

III. Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Microsoft is delivering its keynote at Computex this week.  Windows Vice President Steve Guggenheimer is expected to be one of the key speakers.  At the consecutive All Things D conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. this week, Windows President Steven Sinofsky is expected to give a presentation as well.

The hope among Acer and other vendors is that Microsoft will at least give the courtesy of laying out a clear set of requirements at the conference.  For better or worse hardware partners -- and customers -- will then have an idea of what they're dealing with.

However, if Microsoft is too strict with its tablet requirements, it may see customers defect to the more liberal Android, which is happy to cater to both high end and low-end hardware.

Windows 8 is Microsoft's first operating system to be designed specifically with tablets in mind.  It's correspondingly the first Windows OS to support ARM CPUs.  Licensed by ARM Holdings plc (ARMH), power-savvy ARM CPUs have dominated the tablet and smart phone scene, grossly outselling designs from Intel and AMD.

According to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the title of the new OS is indeed Windows 8 and it will launch next year.  A public beta is expected late this year, or early next year.

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oh boo hoo
By Pessimism on 5/31/2011 3:05:40 PM , Rating: 5
Microsoft is just trying to keep low clocked, flaky knockoff garbage from tainting the user experience. I have no issues with this. Hobbyists that want to force the OS onto their via/mediatek/jmicron trash will figure out a way around the installer check anyways. Considering today's ARM devices can barely load a webpage without stuttering or lag, it isn't unreasonable to ban hardware from two years ago from running an OS that hasn't been released yet.

RE: oh boo hoo
By pugster on 5/31/2011 3:26:08 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure that a few months after the release of Windows 8 ARM, the cheaper arm cpu manufacturers like amlogic, rockchip, telechips and via will make cpus compliant.

RE: oh boo hoo
By rburnham on 5/31/2011 4:39:51 PM , Rating: 5
The fact that hardware manufacturers have a problem with this only proves that they don't care about the user experience. They just want to move cheap hardware. With the bar set high by Apple in terms of user experience, that kind of thing will not fly in the tablet space.

RE: oh boo hoo
By kleinma on 5/31/2011 5:40:59 PM , Rating: 3
Apple might be good at the "user experience", but IMO not from the standpoint of speed of hardware. They might not ever offer the "low end" market hardware, but when I have to work on a Mac, they tend to be slow as dirt. Granted I am a tech so I tend to work on items that are not brand new, but even a year old mac book seems slow to my 5 year old HP core2duo that I upgraded to an Intel SSD hard drive.

RE: oh boo hoo
By spread on 5/31/2011 8:06:42 PM , Rating: 3
To be fair, SSD drives make a huge difference in system responsiveness.

Outfit a Mac with that same SSD drive and it will give it a speed boost.

RE: oh boo hoo
By michael2k on 6/1/2011 7:56:06 PM , Rating: 2
What's ironic is that Apple has one of the most powerful ARM platforms out there right now. They might get leapfrogged soon enough, but they don't shy away from pushing GHz, cores, GPUs, or architectures.

RE: oh boo hoo
By Breakfast Susej on 6/1/2011 11:32:40 AM , Rating: 2
This is no surprise.

This takes me back to Vista's release when the OEM's essentially burned Vista's name with pathetic hardware, and incompatible software.

I remember getting some of the first Acer Vista equipped notebooks in the day. They were woefully under-equipped and loaded with software and drivers that were at worst outright incompatible with the OS.

Half of the crap-ware suite that Acer put on the first of their Vista notebooks I unboxed was generating compatibility warnings and simply crashing on boot. I was dumbfounded that they would release a product that was clearly not tested in any fashion, just slammed with an image of incompatible garbage and shoveled out the door.

Microsoft is wise to learn from this mistake for this go round.

RE: oh boo hoo
By Natch on 6/1/2011 12:00:00 PM , Rating: 2
Tell me about it! Had a guy bring me a Compaq (yeah, I know!), running an Athlon 1.3 GHz cpu, with 512mb of PC-133 ram, and Vista Home Premium on it.....and wanted to know why it was running SO SLOW???

I advised him to either buy a copy of Windows XP to put on there, or buy a new computer. No way could you upgrade a pig like that to run Vista worth a damn! Needless to say, that person wasn't too happy to hear that they'd bought a POS....but oh well!

What I got out of this article
By chmilz on 5/31/2011 3:33:51 PM , Rating: 5
Is that everyone involved in computing is named Steve.

RE: What I got out of this article
By rburnham on 5/31/2011 4:37:27 PM , Rating: 3
Or Wang.

RE: What I got out of this article
By bodar on 5/31/2011 6:33:15 PM , Rating: 3
I think it's a title, like Darth or Khal.

By Ramstark on 6/1/2011 12:13:46 PM , Rating: 2
"Darth Jobs" vs "Khal Gates" Good Star Trek Characters...+5 to that xD

I think it makes sense
By stm1185 on 5/31/2011 3:53:48 PM , Rating: 5
I am still using Vista 64. I have 4gb of ram and a quad core CPU and for the last 3 years its been a wonderful experience. I would bet if Microsoft enforced hardware restrictions on Vista and not let crap machines flood the market Vista would have had a much better public opinion.

Microsoft should do all it can to ensure customers of Windows 8 Tablets get a great experience, and by limiting the hardware that can be used they can stop low cost bad parts ruining a user's experience; and creating a bad public perception of Windows 8.

RE: I think it makes sense
By MrFord on 5/31/2011 4:39:38 PM , Rating: 3
So true.Especially when the fist company you hear complaining is Acer.

If it can keep away the table equivalent of a 15in $399 Acer Celeron single-core "laptop" with 512Mb of RAM, that damn GMA915, the slowest 5400RPM they could find and a 40 min battery life running on Vista x32 with McAfee preinstalled, I say go Microsoft.

RE: I think it makes sense
By erikstarcher on 5/31/2011 6:55:38 PM , Rating: 2
Are you sure that was an Acer. Sounds like the crap Toshiba was shipping. If they had a dual core / 1GB RAM minimum for Vista it would have done much better. The $hit that Acer and Toshiba were selling in the low end space didn't do anybody any good.

By Breakfast Susej on 6/1/2011 11:37:06 AM , Rating: 2
He's right, Acers Vista notebooks were so bad it was one step beyond.

I remember well unboxing the first of those machines, setting it on the bench and proceeding to watch it take 2+ hours to get through the initial decompression/user settings phase to the desktop for the first time. Then half of the crap-ware in the acer image began crashing and generating Vista incompatibility warnings as well.

By ultimatebob on 5/31/2011 4:02:24 PM , Rating: 2
Hopefully this will help to prevent a deluge of $200 Chinese "Craptablets" running Windows 8. There are already dozens of them on the market running on the Android platform as it is.

RE: Fantastic...
By Belard on 5/31/2011 6:39:45 PM , Rating: 2
Its MS taking a page out of Apple, kind-of.

The cheap Android tablets have issues... and its Android that gets blamed... and somewhat rightfully so... but because of how Android is available to pretty much ANYONE - there isnt much, if anything that Google can do about it.

But MS isn't google - and they have CONTROL over their product.

RE: Fantastic...
By Belard on 5/31/2011 7:38:09 PM , Rating: 2
Forgot to add:

The Playbook by RIM/Blackberry guys... is how you screw up out of the starting gate.

RE: Fantastic...
By Pirks on 6/1/2011 3:47:42 PM , Rating: 2
The best mobile browser, the best mobile multitasking and the best mobile OS in the market architecture wise is a "screw up"? Belard, why don't you stop looking so dumb?

Gimme a break
By Raiders12 on 5/31/2011 5:09:59 PM , Rating: 2
So the sheeple will flock to $600 Ipads, but will complain if big evil Microsoft enforces some hardware standards?

Also I have 0 sympathy for tablet/netbook/laptop manufacturers. So you cant stuff a 1.6 Ghz Atom and 1 Gb DDR2 memory into it, get over it. Its called technological advancement. Im frankly tired of the same laptops and netbooks with a slightly different exterior.

RE: Gimme a break
By icanhascpu on 5/31/2011 5:34:43 PM , Rating: 2
What the h3ll are you talking about? How does Apple even enter into this? Its pretty much agreed that having high user experience is good and most people agree with what MS is doing. Put your fanaticism back in your pants.

RE: Gimme a break
By mondo1234 on 5/31/2011 5:59:08 PM , Rating: 2
So the sheeple will flock to $600 Ipads, but will complain if big evil Microsoft enforces some hardware standards?

What do the sheeple have to do with this? The article refers to the MS partners.

RE: Gimme a break
By Belard on 5/31/2011 6:34:47 PM , Rating: 2
Huh? iPads start at around $480 and up... most Android tablets are in the same price range but generally WORSE... XOOM. The Playbook is no cheaper.

Most notebooks are made by a handful of companies. Same guts and screen, different coat of paint.

Where they get this from?
By Belard on 5/31/11, Rating: 0
RE: Where they get this from?
By spread on 5/31/11, Rating: 0
RE: Where they get this from?
By Belard on 5/31/2011 9:37:41 PM , Rating: 2
I'd put RIM's hardware at upper end... no garbage. But they have their share of issues. I've never ever EVER liked RIM OS... I'd stick with my Dumb SONY phones before using RIM.

I've not used a Playbook... reviews have been harsh but justified. No Contacts or email? Thats beyond stupid. What, they couldn't hire one guy to develop those simple tools? Making it HARD to use is a no-no (who wants a hard to use device?)

MS won't destroy Android. Android is free, anyone can make handsets. WP7 is NOT free... and eats into what little profit that can be made. Apple does great because they tightly tied the App store to the hardware.

Nokia may end up being the only WP7 phone maker at some point... but I'll be honest, what happens 2-5 years from now is anyones guess. Lawsuits can and will effect the business. Remember the BRATz Toy line? The creator worked for Mattel who did nothing with the concept, so he sold it to a competitor. I think both sides had their faults and should be ended up even. But BRATz lost, got murdered and the toys forever banned. So perhaps Android ends up not being so free... who knows.

After seeing the HP WebOS demo a little while ago... I see failure.

I say MS has a good shot at the tablet market because of what they did with WP7. But we don't know exactly what MS's plans are... Is it going to be a scaled down full blown OS or a scaled up WMoble OS? Will they market both? Both have faults and advantages.

Personally, I think its time for HUGE OS like Vista, Win7, etc to DIE. I grew up with AmigaOS, in which the entire OS would suck up about 300~700k of floppy space. That was enough for a fully functional GUI. A modern AmigaOS boot time is a few seconds... with OLD SLOW PPC 800mhz hardware.

WP7 experience is great. I'm sure some folks at Google and Apple said "DAMN! Why didn't we think of that!?" I've quickly grown weary of the TINY 4x4 layout of Android and iPhone. My Android Home screen (OLD) had as FEW icons as possible... and still my AIM had to be perfect to click on these tiny buttons.

I installed the WP7 App onto my Samsung Android phone...
I LOVE IT... I FRACKING LOVE IT! Microsoft actually does something original (rare)... and did it well. My tiles (still Icons, really) are easier to hit and they tell me something useful. Simple flat colors makes it easy to know what your looking for. It simple, its basic... for a hand-held device, it WORKS. In the coming months, there will be more WP7 functionality added to Android.

If I was Google or Apple, I would be working my butt off to make something better, but not copy WP7. I haven't a clue on that one.

RE: Where they get this from?
By Pirks on 6/1/2011 3:53:58 PM , Rating: 2
I've never ever EVER liked RIM OS
Playbook uses QNX, not BlackBerry OS, and this is totally different game, much much better than both Android and iOS
I've not used a Playbook
Woah, now this is why your comments are so dumb, haha :))) Never EVER dare to compare things until YOU REALLY TRIED ALL THE MAJOR MARKET PLAYERS AND OSes! Otherwise you'd look dumb just like now

RE: Where they get this from?
By Belard on 5/31/2011 8:57:54 PM , Rating: 2
Post got long... forgot to finish.

I took a quick look of the Android and Playbook comparisons against iPad... they are mostly (if not all) laughably the iPad1!

My prediction of iPad share:
Jan 1, 2012 : iPads = 85%
Jan 1, 2013 : iPads = 80~75%

The iPad3 will be released next Feb/March... they may do it before Christmas, but for business reasons, I don't see them doing it. There isn't a non-iPad device on the radar for 2011 that exceeds the iPad2 specs.

Checked out the HP-WebOS tablet? Funny, it looks very much like an iPad OS. Watching the demo-videos, there are many times that I'm thinking "if they you tube video and demonstrator wasn't SAYING it was an HP, I'd be very sure it was an iPad".

After seeing the HP WebOS... I'd say its easily in 5th place. Their only chance would be selling a "cheap iPad clone" for $250~300 (16gb wifi). If it sells for $400+, why would anyone bother?

I kind of hate to admit it... but yeah, apple freaks will be happy to buy an iPad3... the older models get resold or regulated to another family member.

Unless Android or MS does something that is like WOW (such as WP7), I'll replace my iPad1 with the iPad3.

RE: Where they get this from?
By perfixalot on 6/1/2011 7:47:00 AM , Rating: 2
Most manufacturers may need a wow factor to catch on (like Asus has managed pretty well with the Transformer), but I wonder if Amazon has enough brand recognition and consumer mind share to do without this.

If Amazon pushes out a quad core Android tablet, running Ice Cream Sandwich in time for the holiday season I suspect a lot of people would be interested even if it doesn't have anything special and isn't super cheap.

Acer iconia W500
By Da W on 5/31/2011 3:43:56 PM , Rating: 2
I've played with Acer's Windows 7 tablet for half an hour and it works. I'd say AMD c-50 CPU is the bare minimum i would accept, the GPU is potent (way stronger than Nvidia Tegra 2), but overall it's workable, fluid and the heaviest/most complex web sites i tried like worked on a touch screen with explorer9. The same cannot be said from the Android version (A500) next to it as i was unable to zoom-in/out in the map. And that's the key: website compatibility! you can load explorer/chrome/firefox on that thing, use the browser you choose, every goddam website in the world is gonna work!

The only problem with Windows 7 touch is the keyboard. But for tablet usage, you don,t type that much. And, people don't talk about it, BUT TRY OUT THE VOICE RECOGNITION FEATURE AVAILABLE IN EVERY WINDOWS 7!!! I used it on my former tablet pc, voice text + one note is great!!!

If you're unhappy you'll be able to load an install copy of windows 8 on a USB stick next year and reformat this tablet. I expect most Windows phone 7 apps will work in windows 8. There are Android emulators for windows if you want to use those apps.

For the same price i'd suggest a bluethoot keyboard+mouse instead of the docking station.

I heard you can even load half-life2 / counterstrike on that thing, Warcraft, diablo, civilization 4 (not 5) and a few old games, which are still better than angry brid.

I really don't get all this anti-microsoft bashing of late. I'd say Google is an advertising company, it somehow it succeeds at spreading anti-microsoft anti-apple trolls all over the internet.

All in all it's not perfect, i'm still waiting for the next generation bobcat @32nm. But if i have to have a tablet now, i'd go with this one over honeycomb ones.

RE: Acer iconia W500
By kattanna on 5/31/2011 4:53:24 PM , Rating: 2
i've been looking at this tablet myself

its looks great.

Not entirely true
By DigitalFreak on 5/31/2011 3:47:21 PM , Rating: 3
Hardware partners had to deliver devices with an ARMv7 or better CPU, at least 256 MB of RAM, 8 GB of Flash, a 800x480 pixel screen, Multi-touch, an FM Tuner, Wi-Fi, GPS, and a 5 MP camera with LED flash.

Contrary to the caption on the picture and the above, Windows Phone 7 is only supported on ARM v7 "Cortex/Scorpion" – Snapdragon QSD8X50, MSM7X30, and MSM8X55. Not the Tegra 2 or any other ARM processor.

Hmmm the Apple approach?...
By Smartless on 5/31/11, Rating: 0
RE: Hmmm the Apple approach?...
By icanhascpu on 5/31/2011 5:37:37 PM , Rating: 2
No. MS does not need every manufacturer on their side. Its the other way around. Else why would MS be in the position of certifications? They need developers on their side, and guess what; they have them.

Nothing wrong with cutting out some of the fat.

Mfg feels the squeeze
By vision33r on 5/31/2011 8:23:05 PM , Rating: 2
Right now other than the iPad, no other tablet maker can charge a premium. Which mean profits are gonna be very very slim. If MS also charges a hefty fee for their OS, this means it's not even worth doing a Win7 tablet unless they can scale the hardware down to do some cost cutting otherwise they will have to jack up the prices and become uncompetitive against Honeycomb tablets and the iPad.

Old Business Model...
By TEAMSWITCHER on 5/31/2011 5:48:55 PM , Rating: 1
Still trying to cram it's old business model down the throats of the hardware makers. Look, Apple is the one hardware company that did not follow Microsoft into mediocrity, and now is bigger than Microsoft. This isn't the 1990's and don't expect history to repeat itself. Apple never really lost with the Macintosh, it is now the premier Personal Computer in the World, market share be damned, and very profitable. I think that companies like RIM and HP are on the right track - find you own direction and try to beat Apple. Don't just sign over profits to Microsoft or Google, like you have before.

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook

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