After having touted ARM support, Microsoft is expected to leave it a minority for the fall Windows 8 launch, insiders purportedly disclosed on Monday. There would be "fewer than five" ARM devices, three of which would be tablets, in the understanding of Bloomberg's sources. Over 40 companies were hoping to have Intel-based systems, they said.
The small turnout for ARM would be due to a previously rumored plan to limit hardware partners for Windows 8 tablets on ARM. In an attempt to recreate Apple's ecosystem and partly that of Windows Phone, Microsoft would have "rigorous quality-control standards" that it hasn't applied to Intel PCs.
Supporting widespread claims, public and otherwise, the roadmap would have Microsoft aiming for a release to manufacturing (RTM) in summer for a launch in October, lining up with the three-year anniversary of Windows 7. Partners in hardware and elsewhere would be invited to a Microsoft event in April where the timing and marketing strategy would be given out in advance.
None of the involved companies would comment.
The cautious approach to ARM hardware releases builds support for a view that Microsoft is trying to create two very distinct experiences for Windows 8 to try and hold on to its existing PC share while cutting into the tablet space owned by the iPad and, to a lesser extent, Android. Intel-based computers and tablets will still default to the Metro interface, but they will have full access to a conventional Windows desktop and won't be very different apart from more touchscreen models becoming options.
ARM devices, meanwhile, will be tightly integrated devices with close cooperation between the hardware designer, the processor creator, and Microsoft. The traditional desktop will only exist to support Office 15 and a handful of Microsoft-selected features. In an attempt to mimic Apple's controlled app model for the iPad, third-party apps will only be available through the curated Windows Store, and browser plugins will be off-limits.
An October launch will see Microsoft have an answer to the iPad two and a half years after it arrived, possibly letting Apple and even Google claim more OS share that would have gone to PCs. The release could still be a make-or-break one for Microsoft, as any significant delay could push Windows 8 into early 2013 and risk both lost holiday sales as well as a direct conflict with the fourth-generation iPad.