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Three reasons Microsoft shouldn't port Windows to the ARM processor

Despite pressures, Microsoft shouldn't yield, analysts say

By Eric Lai
March 13, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. is facing increasing pressure to bring its mainstream Windows operating system to the ARM mobile CPU. But analysts say the company should take a different route.

Nicholas Negroponte, head of the One Laptop Per Child Association Inc. (OLPC), said Wednesday that "like many, we are urging" Microsoft to support the ARM processor already used in several billion cell phones and which the OLPC, as well as others, plans to use in the next version of its children's laptop.

The week before, Warren East, CEO of ARM Holdings, the designer of the CPU, said that with 10 ARM-based netbooks likely to hit stores by year's end, Microsoft is in danger of missing out.

"I think it's a dangerous missed opportunity for them," East told the Financial Times. "Personally, I think they should be supporting ARM now."

Through a spokeswoman, Microsoft was noncommittal.

"Microsoft's plan is to offer a quality Windows experience on the current XO device," the spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. "Microsoft is not commenting on any future plans with regard to OLPC, nor does it comment on speculation."

Proponents say ARM's low power usage and low cost will enable a new wave of smaller, less expensive (sub-$300) netbooks that can run all day on a single charge.

Already used in cell phones and in Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle 2, ARMs will prove so attractive to netbook makers and consumers alike that by 2012, 55% of netbooks will ship with an ARM processor instead of an x86, such as the current market-dominating Intel Atom, predicts analyst Robert Castellano of The Information Network.

Without a version of Windows tailored for ARM netbooks, Linux-based platforms such as Google Inc.'s Android mobile operating system could thrive and turn the search and Web services company into "more of a competitor in the desktop operating system business than we ever have before," admitted Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to Wall Street last month.

Despite this threat, analysts say Microsoft shouldn't counterattack by porting Windows 7, XP or even Vista to ARM. Why?

1. It will hurt its close partner, Intel Corp.

Intel is fighting back against ARM's attempts to move upmarket from smartphones into netbooks, which would further cannibalize Intel's PC chip sales.

Earlier this month, Intel recruited Taiwanese chip foundry TSMC to design Atom chips that could work in smartphones, ARM's current strength.

"Intel really wants to get into both markets; Microsoft really needs to stay out," Castellano said. If Microsoft ports Windows XP or 7 to ARM, Castellano envisions retaliatory moves from Intel, such as actively optimizing its x86 CPUs to run Linux better than Windows.

2. Technical difficulties.



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