Intel rubbishes ARM's chances with Windows 8

Intel has been reassuring its investors that British low-power chip design giant ARM doesn't pose a threat to the company's near-monopoly on the desktop and laptop processor markets, despite rumours to the contrary - indicating that Microsoft's support for the architecture is little more than an experiment.

During the company's annual investor meeting, Intel's general manager of software and services Renée James revealed something that Microsoft has been keeping quiet ever since it announced ARM support in Windows 8: there'll be no way for users to run legacy applications.

"Our competitors will not be running legacy applications," James claimed. "Not now. Not ever. On ARM, there'll be the new experience, which is very specifically around the mobile experience, specifically around tablet and some limited clamshell, with no legacy OS," she went on to explain.

If true, that offers Intel a distinct advantage over its low-power competitor: compatibility. While those who opt for a Windows 8 system running an ARM processor will get longer battery life, they will be stuck running ARM-specific applications - while those opting for an Intel chip get the option of using the new mobile-centric interface without losing their carefully collected applications.

Microsoft's approach to legacy apps has been the subject of much confusion ever since the company announced its decision to support ARM in Windows 8. While special ARM-specific versions of Microsoft Office suite will be produced, third-party developers are less likely to embrace the architecture - at least, at first.

This means that Windows 8 ARM systems won't be able to play mainstream games or run popular applications such as Adobe Photoshop. For all but the most basic of uses, then, Windows 8 on ARM is something of a red herring - or so Intel would have investors believe.

The news gets worse for ARM fans: James claims that, rather than there being a single ARM build of Windows 8 that will run on any chip, the operating system will be fragmented into four distinct versions - with each version aimed at a specific ARM licensee such as Qualcomm or Nvidia.

"Each one will run for that specific ARM environment, and they will run new applications - or cloud-based applications," James claimed. "They are neither forward- nor backward-compatible between their own architecture – different generations of a single vendor – nor are they compatible across different vendors. Each one is a unique stack."

It's worth mentioning at this point that James's comments have yet to be confirmed by Microsoft - although, given the partnership that the two companies have enjoyed in the past, it would seem strange for Intel to start making up 'facts' about an upcoming software release without any basis in reality.

Following James's anti-ARM proclamations, Intel chief Paul Otellini took to the stage to deny rumours that Intel could be looking at producing ARM-compatible chips of its own - possibly to get its foot in the door with Apple's range of mobile devices.

"There's no advantage going in there," Otellini claimed. "We'd be beholden to someone else - beholden to ARM. We'd pay royalties to them, so it would lower the overall profits. I think we can do better. So the short answer is: No, we have no intention of using our own license to build ARM processors."

If Intel's information on the development of Windows 8 for ARM proves accurate, it could be a major blow for the British chip design giant - and its licensees, many of whom saw the announcement of ARM support in Windows 8 as the green light for producing higher-powered, desktop-friendly chips based on the company's Cortex-A15 'Eagle' design.

We have reached out to Microsoft for comment on Intel's claims, and are awaiting a response.