The other Windows 8 hits some snags

Microsoft knew that the RT version of Windows 8 was going to face higher hurdles than the tried-and-true Intel version.

Microsoft Surface tablet packing an Nvidia ARM chip.
Microsoft Surface tablet packing an Nvidia ARM chip. Microsoft

Don't be surprised if the other version of Windows 8 -- you know, the one that doesn't run on Intel chips -- stumbles out of the gate.

We got a taste of this on Friday when Hewlett-Packard confirmed that it won't offer a Windows RT tablet this year.

I heard about these issues in May when a little birdie told me about problems with RT and Qualcomm and Texas Instruments at PC makers. And I wrote at the time (May 15) that HP's Qualcomm-chip based tablet "may not happen this year."

(So, just to be clear. The RT version of Windows 8 runs on ARM chips from Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments and will not have the backward compatibility of Intel-based Windows 8.)

Whether these issues are PC company-specific or chipmaker-specific or RT-specific or a combination of all three isn't clear.

But Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights & Strategy, told me this week that one ARM chipmaker is making more progress than the others.

Nvidia -- which by no coincidence is in Microsoft's RT Surface tablet -- is ahead of the other two ARM guys because it has a long history of working with Windows drivers, among other reasons, according to Moorhead.

There are broader issues too, though. Microsoft, by design, is wading slowly into new Windows waters: RT is the first mainstream version of Windows to run on ARM chips.

How cautious is Microsoft? As I wrote in May, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments were initially assigned two "slots" each for devices. "ARM is restricted to two designs each, meaning six total initial designs," said a source at the time.

One of those slots was for the Qualcomm-based HP device, referenced above.

So, Microsoft is obviously worried about quality control, which means issues, possibly major ones, are inevitable.

A best-case scenario is a staggered release of RT tablets, laptops, and hybrids. With some versions, e.g., those based on Nvidia chips, probably appearing earlier than others.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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