ARM wrestling: Microsoft’s big bet on Windows 8

ARMThis week, Microsoft revealed some rather interesting surprises at its annual MIX conference in Las Vegas. The big shocker wasn’t seeing presenters pounding on Google’s Chrome browser for much of the opening keynote; that was kind of expected. It was seeing them pounding on it with a PC running Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 on an ARM CPU. Yes, they not only took on Google’s X86 platform, they took it on with what appears to be their new favorite chip – Nvidia’s ARM-based Tegra.

So what does this mean?

ARM wrestling

When Microsoft first announced that Windows 8 would run on ARM architecture, skeptics discussed the problems of moving the legacy applications, and whether or not this was just a stunt to pay back Intel for its dedication to MeeGo. I’m still pretty much convinced that Intel’s attempt to grow its own operating system was a mistake, but Microsoft appears to be very serious about ARM. This isn’t a joke by any stretch of the imagination.

MIX is one of Microsoft’s most important conferences because it focuses on the Web, where its arch nemesis Google dominates. Any platform or product Microsoft puts front and center during MIX represents a significant investment, and a massive change in focus.

Internet Explorer 10: The afterburners kick in

Every once in a while, Microsoft gets pretty upset, causing it to kick in the afterburners and go after another company with a vengeance. We may be watching that now. IE 9 is generally considered to be the fastest production browser on the market today (on new hardware running Windows 7) thanks to massive hardware acceleration. IE 10 appears to be significantly faster on all vectors.

Microsoft has discovered that benchmarks make for better browsers, and has created thousands — yes not tens or hundreds — of benchmarks to increase the next browser’s speed and reliability significantly. Microsoft also created an HTML 5 lab, so that (and here is a unique concept) engineers can actually test a lot of the new technology coming to browsers before they toss it out to users. In contrast, Google apparently believes the best and only real test for products is putting them on the market, so we can see firsthand what breaks and what doesn’t. Many of us have found this strategy rather annoying over the years; even more so when coupled with Google’s lock-in strategy.

Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview Fish Bowl DemoInternet Explorer 10 Platform Preview demo illustrating full hardware acceleration

AMD and Intel on notice

An ARM-based future doesn’t yet mean that x86 is dead, and that technology still has a ton of legacy software attached to it. However, more and more of what we want to do now comes from new apps, or from the Web.

The success of the ARM-based iPad is proof that consumers are willing to leave their x86 applications behind. Shipments of Apple’s tablet are forecast to approach 15 percent of shipments from the entire PC market this year, and double that by next year (if no one challenges it). Apple itself is likely to expand ARM-based products into its MacBook line, and ARM could have, in some extreme forecasts, up to 50 percent of the PC market by 2015. That would be a scary number for Intel and AMD. Evidently so scary that Intel is giving a $10 bonus for every Intel-based tablet that is shipped.

Windows 8: A whole new game

Let’s be clear: Windows 8 is a “bet the farm” product from Microsoft. We won’t get our first big look at its massive gamble until its big Professional Developer’s Conference event in September. The next version of the OS appears on track for a mid-to-late 2012 launch, and the company clearly knows it needs to hit the mark hard or risk bleeding critical market share to Apple and Google.

Microsoft is reaching for the big guns in a major attempt to restore PC momentum. Windows is being revamped. Kinect is coming over to the PC along with Surface features. The company recently put a new chief marketing officer at the top of the marketing pile. This won’t be easy, but at MIX, Microsoft put friends and competitors alike on notice that it won’t go quietly into the night.

To be clear, this battle will be fought with buyers. The winner will be the platform that sells the most products. The last time this happened, two companies called MIPS and DEC Alpha fought and neither made the final cut, leaving x86 dominant. This time around, ARM has already taken hold on tablets and smartphones, with powerful allies like Qualcomm and Nvidia, and the results may not be the same.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Music

From Jay Rock to Saba, these are the 50 best albums of 2018

We've spent the year listening to new albums, digging deep, and culling our master list into 50 favorites. From blockbuster releases to hidden gems, these are the best albums of 2018.
Computing

Does Qualcomm's latest laptop processor hold up against Intel's Core i5?

Qualcomm has been nipping at Intel's mobile CPU heels for years and now it might finally have overtaken it. To find out whether it's new SoC can hold its own in mid-range computing, we pitted the Snapdragon 8cx vs. Core i5.
Mobile

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.
Computing

Intel answers Qualcomm's new PC processors by pairing Core and Atom in 'Foveros'

Intel has announced a new packaging technology called 'Foveros' that makes it easier for the company to place multiple chips together on one package. That includes chips based on different Intel architectures, like Core and Atom.
Gaming

With our Steam guide, you can give the gift of gaming this holiday season

The holidays may have passed, but it's always a good time to give the gift of gaming (especially when there's a Steam sale)! Here's our quick guide on how to give a Steam game as a gift.
Photography

Forget painting-style transfers, this A.I. creates realistic portraits of fake people

Do these images look computer-generated? Nvidia researchers recently published a paper on a new variation on style transfer artificial intelligence that's able to generate entirely new portraits.
Computing

Leaked HP laptop listing reveals entry-level Nvidia MX250 GPU

Alongside powerful graphics cards, Nvidia may have more mobile GPUs to show off at next year's CES show in January. The MX250 has been spotted in a listing for an HP laptop, potentially replacing the entry-level MX150.
Computing

ZSpace’s laptop brings education to life with its own 3D technology

The ZSpace laptop wants to overhaul education and training by offering affordable access to 3D mixed reality through a bespoke screen and glasses technology that is already supported by a wide array of applications.
Computing

Former Microsoft intern claims Google may have sabotaged Edge browser

Google's Chrome web browser has been able to establish such dominance that Microsoft is abandoning its web rendering engine, switching Edge over to Chromium, but did Google play dirty in an attempt to force Microsoft to make the decision?
Computing

ViewSonic’s 1080p gaming monitor lets you experience the action in style

ViewSonic is catering to gamers with its latest monitor, the XG240R. Featuring a 1080p 144Hz panel, RGB lighting, and a fast 1ms response time, you can conquer your opponents and do it in style.
Computing

Here’s why you might still be using Wi-Fi after cellular 5G launches

Cellular 5G might be around the corner and promising to deliver lightning fast speeds, but the folks over at the Wi-Fi Alliance have a few reasons why they think you shouldn't dump Wi-Fi just yet.
Computing

Pinning websites to your taskbar is as easy as following these quick steps

Would you like to know how to pin a website to the taskbar in Windows 10 in order to use browser links like apps? Whichever browser you're using, it's easier than you might think. Here's how to get it done.
Computing

Detangle your desk with a mighty wireless mouse. Here are our six favorites

If you're looking for the best wireless mouse on the market, we've got the list for you!. These six models have something for everyone, whether you're a hardcore gamer or simply looking to ward off carpal tunnel.
Web

Canceling Amazon Prime is easy, and you might get a refund

Don't be intimidated. Learning how to cancel Amazon Prime is easier than you might think. You might even get a partial or full refund on the cost, depending on how much you've used it. Check out our quick-hit guide for doing so.