March 9, 2009 at 5:54 pm
Arm’s Chief Executive, Warren East, expects that at least ten ARM-based netbooks with processors from Qualcomm, Freescale and Texas Instruments will hit retail shelves this year. We already know that Asus is considering Qualcomm chips (based on ARM designs) for upcoming Eee PCs.
East is frustrated on the lack of Microsoft support for upcoming ARM-powered netbooks. It is widely understood that Windows XP, Vista and the upcoming Windows 7 cannot run on ARM CPUs given their need for x86 processors. Linux or Google’s Android are the most likely operating systems for ARM-based netbooks. However, Windows Mobile and Windows CE are used in close to 150 different mobile phones powered by ARM chips. Presumably little adaptation would be needed for netbook usage.
East sees no technical hurdles for MS support on its ARM-powered netbooks. “They’ve been working with Arm for the last 12 years or so on Windows Mobile, there’s lots of Arm-based code at Microsoft. It’s commercial reasons,” he told the FT. Whilst he didn’t elaborate what these technical reasons were, the fact that MS may have to cut its licensing fees on what would be some of the cheapest netbooks on the market is a strong reason not to support ARM. A conflict of interest may also exist between Microsoft and long-term ally, Intel. East believes that using a combination of ARM plus Linux is $60 cheaper than using Intel Atom plus Windows.
Apart from price, ARM netbooks would also have the advantage of being up to ten times more power efficient than their x86 equivalents as well as offering a desktop-class user experience. The recent news that Google is setting up an Android technology support team in Taiwan highlights how serious they are taking the platform for the use in netbooks and other embedded systems. Indeed if a manufacturer is successful with Google Android, then Microsoft support may be the last thing ARM needs. “Microsoft will support them [ARM netbooks] when it’s ready to. Personally, I think they should be supporting ARM now. It’s a dangerous missed opportunity for them, from their point of view,” East said.