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.

Brooke Crothers
Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
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.
2 min read
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.