Before he boldly declared Microsoft's Windows RT-based Surface tablet dead on arrival, mobile analyst Sascha Segan circulated a copy of his column to colleagues and dared anyone to dispute him.
Guess I'll have to take up that challenge.
But first, I have to say that it's very tough to dispute Sascha's contention that the first wave of Windows RT tablets, including the Surface, face a serious uphill battle to gain traction in a market dominated by established players like Apple and Google. For starters, Microsoft itself screwed the pooch by rolling out its own self-built tablet, versions of which will run both the ARM-optimized version of the new Windows 8 operating system and the x86 version.
That may have been strategically necessary to get the ball rolling for Windows RT and to a lesser extent Windows 8, but it also ticked off key hardware partners who assumed the software giant would stick strictly to software like it has in the past. Microsoft's turf encroachment probably resulted in an attendant whisper campaign of FUD aimed at the Surface and only half-hearted efforts on the part of some OEMs to build their own Windows RT devices.
At any rate, count me as someone who thinks that Sascha's absolutely right when he says the first-generation Surface and other Windows RT tablets will be lacking in apps and legacy Windows functionality while carrying price tags that defy logic given current market realities.
But I strongly disagree with his broader conclusion that this will kill RT before it has a chance to spread its wings and fly. Quite simply, the viability of Windows on ARM is too important to too many industry heavyweights for it to be allowed to die on the vine.
And I don't just mean Microsoft, though obviously the success of its future operating systems on non-Intel hardware is pretty important to the company. The old Wintel alliance is rapidly decaying as Intel tweaks its own chips for Android and other software in an effort to finally crack mobile, and you can bet Microsoft doesn't want to be left holding the bag in a duopoly that only goes one way.
But aside from Microsoft pouring cash into Windows RT to assure its continued life - and who would be surprised to see heavy subsidisation from the Redmond firm should the first generation of products fail - there are plenty of other industry players who would like to see it succeed over the long haul. In fact, you can probably assume that nearly everybody involved in making smartphones, tablets, and PCs, with the notable exceptions of Apple and Google, is hoping Windows on ARM has a long and profitable life.
That includes chip makers like Qualcomm and Nvidia, which would love to have a second option besides Android as a viable mass-market OS for their platforms. It includes makers of tablets and hybrids, which would also be more than pleased to have a four-way option on chips and software platforms, because pitting competing vendors against each other is generally good for business.
ARM itself wants Windows RT to flourish for obvious reasons - the more stuff that works on its architecture, the better its business prospects - but also as a hedge should Intel's mobile efforts start to really pay off and current makers of Android devices and, yes, Apple itself decide to switch to x86 chips for future products.
You'll note I didn't include Intel in the small list of companies that unequivocally want Windows RT to fail. That's because Intel has to have mixed feelings about all of this, if only for defensive reasons. The company's chief rival, Advanced Micro Devices, has been faltering of late and AMD's demise would mean that Intel could face any number of legal difficulties if it couldn't show regulators that its resulting near-total x86 dominance wasn't the monopoly it appeared to be.
As tech analyst Rob Enderle recently told me regarding Intel's position in the regulatory arena, should AMD fade from the picture, Intel's best bet to avoid antitrust action would be to demonstrate that ARM is providing just as much competition as AMD ever did.
"Intel might actually escape an antitrust challenge if ARM continues to gain share in tablets and either Microsoft or Apple moves to ARM exclusively. With ARM trending it is vastly harder to argue an x86 monopoly now and it may be impossible in three to five years," Enderle said.
In short, there's a lot of serious capital that's invested in the success of Windows RT and this is an industry-spanning alliance that may even include a natural opponent to the platform, Intel, albeit begrudgingly.
But what does any of this mean for Windows RT's 'survivability'? It means there's a lot of money and muscle lurking to assure the platform sticks around. It means that Microsoft, a company with deep pockets and a track record of building developer ecosystems that's second to none, is in this for the long haul, with some key allies very much on board.
It means that even if Sascha's correct and the first generation of RT devices turn out to be dead on arrival, with all due respect to my esteemed colleague, this platform has a long life ahead of it.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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