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
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.
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
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
Windows Phone 7 handset maker Acer Inc. (TPE:2353) was
among the tablet makers to voice frustration at the planned restrictions for
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)
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
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
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.
quote: So the sheeple will flock to $600 Ipads, but will complain if big evil Microsoft enforces some hardware standards?
quote: That leaves WP7, RIM, HP/Palm's WebOS to battle out for #3. My bet would be MS will grab that position. HP will take #4 and may give up. RIM will most likely go Android.
quote: I've never ever EVER liked RIM OS
quote: I've not used a Playbook
quote: 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.