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A peek at Microsoft Windows 8

Posted: 06 Jun 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Windows 8  mobile SoC  ARM 

Microsoft has released a video giving a first peek at Windows 8 that shows a user interface for PCs and notebooks similar to that on its Zune and Windows Phone 7 mobile systems.

Microsoft is set to bring its mobile interface to the PC with Windows 8. However, Freescale, Marvell, Samsung and ST-Ericsson appear to be off the list of ARM-based mobile SoC makers Microsoft will support with Windows 8.

Microsoft showed versions of Windows 8 running on AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments processors, according to a report from a Microsoft press event at Computex Taipei. One source at the Uplinq event here suggested only three ARM mobile SoC vendors will get support for Win 8—Nvidia, Qualcomm and TI.

Last month, Intel executives said Microsoft plans four versions of Windows 8, one for the x86 and three for specific mobile ARM SoCs.

If true, the plans leave major ARM mobile SoC players including Freescale, Marvell, Samsung and ST-Ericsson without a port of Windows 8. That means they will not be enabled to compete in the high volume traditional PC markets along with AMD and Intel.

Freescale's i.Mx and Marvell's Armada chip families could face the steepest challenges ahead. Neither product has found high volume design wins in smartphones to date.

In addition, an engineer with one large OEM said Marvell's Armada also does not support Google's Android gracefully, in part due to the many extensions Marvell made to the ARM instruction set.

As many as a dozen mobile ARM SoCs are currently competing for sockets in high volume smartphones and tablets, suggesting a shake out ahead. If Windows 8 opens the door only for Nvidia, Qualcomm and TI to compete in high volume notebook and desktop markets, those architectures will have a big leg up in 2012.

Microsoft's preview of Windows 8 shows a user interface that extends ideas it first implemented with its Zune MP3 player and later refined with Windows Phone 7. In this way, Microsoft bows to the increasing importance of mobile systems in computing.

Large, resizable tiles that show live data or pictures replace relatively small icons to represent apps. Users can place a number of resizable tiles on the screen at once, helping maximise the use of whatever display they have on a PC, tablet or smartphone.

Microsoft has yet to gain significant traction in mobile systems such as smartphones and tablets. Forward Concepts (Tempe, Ariz.) estimates Microsoft's market share for mobile OS software will only grow from nine per cent in 2010 to 11 per cent in 2015. Thus it's not clear how strong Windows 8 will be as a market maker or whether it could infuse new vigour in traditional desktop and notebook markets.

- Rick Merritt
  EE Times

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