Saturday, 13 November 2010

Desktop ARMs - and what they'll mean for Microsoft

[Background: the blog post I wrote on ARM's new Cortex-A15 MPCore processor core.]

If Apple finds that the ARM processors out-compete Intel on price and power consumption, and at least match x86 for performance, the choice to switch is going to be a no-brainer.

Apple has enough cash to buy every person in the world a McDonald's burger and fries.
Would Apple risk a legal challenge to any preferred-supplier lock-in agreement with Intel? Let's put it this way: at the time of writing, INTC market cap: $120bn, up 7.5% year-on-year and generally flat; AAPL market cap: $280bn, up 48% y-o-y and climbing consistently. Apple has around $26bn sitting around in the bank. That's an astonishing amount of cash. To put in context, that's enough to buy every man, woman and child in the world a burger and fries from McDonald's, and have change left over. Here's a statement I never thought I'd make: with a stock and cash exchange, Apple. Could. Buy. Intel.

Except Apple's got too much sense. If Apple switches to ARM for its MacOS products, Intel's stock will tank - while Apple's will go ballistic. And there's nothing Intel could afford to do about it, because Apple would buy them then, at the bottom of the market, just to shut them up and send their lawyers packing.

Will we see Windows and Office for ARM? Well, here's a bit of gossip: keep your eyes open in the next twelve months.

Microsoft knows that unless it raises its game, it'll be the meat in an iPad and Android sandwich.
Microsoft is not blind to ARM's incursion into desktop-grade computing, by way of Android and iOS tablets. With ARM's announcement of its Cortex-A15 MPCore architecture, Microsoft knows that unless it raises its game and is prepared to abandon positions entrenched for a quarter of a century, it's going to be the thin layer of meat in an iPad and Android sandwich, because for the first time since ... well, since the very emergence of the industry, corporate computing's got sexy.

And beige bricks aren't.

Once it's feasible to run MS products natively under MacOS's Boot Camp on an ARM, it'll complete Apple's business case for an ARM MacOS port, and the dominos start falling.

Let's look at the consequences if MS doesn't follow through on its internal projects. Documents To Go is already available for both iOS and Android. With the potential to take MS's market away from them, DataViz would be insane not to consolidate, add Open/LibreOffice support, and evolve their mobile application into a fully featured corporate-grade tool. QuickOffice is also available for both platforms, but to my mind isn't quite up there with DtG quite yet.

The fate of LibreOffice (as now is - daft name, but there you go) will be interesting. Based on C++, it's not in a great position to convert to ObjectiveC (iOS) or Java (Android). Of course, there is a development route for C++ into Android, via the Native Development Kit, but compared with the Java environment it's like pulling teeth, and it doesn't play nicely with Dalvik for now. LibreOffice may find itself the second layer of meat in that sandwich unless its developers can at least port to Android - ObjectiveC is probably too big an ask for now.

But anyone who's been around in the industry knows that Microsoft, whilst often slow to spot emerging markets, will adapt its products, marketing and spin to shut out competitors before they can cause too much damage. Microsoft is more vulnerable now than at any time in the past two decades, but it's still got teeth. It may yet be able to use them.

1 comment:

  1. wonderful insight into pardigm shift of OS, CPUs, and other related applications and Android Future