With a variety of new tablets hitting the market, some IT pros excited by the upcoming version of Windows 8 on tablets wonder whether Android devices like the 13.3-in. Fujitsu Excite 13 could be converted to support Windows 8 on ARM (WOA).
That would allow workers to access a variety of Microsoft Office applications and internal office apps built for Windows on existing Android tablets retrofitted with Windows 8, IT managers have noted.
Don't count on that happening, though. The prospect of WOA conversions is unlikely and -- as far as analysts are concerned -- ill-advised. They reason that Microsoft will want to keep a tablet's hardware and its upcoming OS tied closely together for greater power and processing efficiencies -- and to limit competition from Android tablets.
Steve Buehler, an analyst at IDC, said Microsoft will find ways to ensure that IT shops and hobbyists can't get Windows 8 to run on Android tablets. "It won't happen," he said. "Doing so is tantamount to [Microsoft] admitting they've lost [in tablets]."
Alternatively, Buehler said there will be a variety of new tablets that run Windows 8 on X86 and Windows 8 on ARM.
Microsoft is pretty clear already that Windows 8 on ARM migrations to existing hardware aren't intended. In a now-famous Feb. 9 blog, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky wrote: "Windows on ARM software will not be sold or distributed independent of a new WOA PC [including tablets], just as you would expect from a consumer electronics device that relies on unique and integrated pairings of hardware and software."
Even so, some experts note that tablet makers make the ultimate call on what devices will ship with Windows 8, which could mean a variety of tablet bodies seen on the market today for Android could end up running Windows 8 on ARM .
On June 1, 2011, Microsoft blogged about how Windows 8 will run on both x86- and ARM-based architectures used in "a variety of different prototypes including touch-centric hardware."
Before that, in January 2011, Microsoft said it would work with chip makers such as AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to support the next version of Windows.
Rob Chandhok, senior vice president at Qualcomm, said Qualcomm's manufacturing partners will have the flexibility to build devices based on Snapdragon chips, but it will be up to Microsoft to determine how to lock down the devices. Microsoft may want devices with a trusted boot system that will be hard to subvert, making it hard to swap in other operating systems, he said.
But while Microsoft has been clear that Windows on ARM will not be sold separately from a new WOA device, it hasn't apparently said whether it will block other OSes on machines designed to run WOA natively.
A Texas Instruments spokeswoman said that running multiple OS's on a single device is feature supported by the OMAP platform, but she noted it will still be up to manufacturers and OS makers to release products that offer that flexibility.
Some IT pros are enthusiastic about Windows 8 on tablets since it will give workers access to corporate applications that have relied on Windows on devices with a touchscreen form factor.
"Windows 8 tablets might be a game changer for Microsoft," said Gregory Fell, the CIO of Terex, a manufacturer of construction equipment with 20,000 workers globally. Fell recently met with Microsoft officials in Redmond, Wash. to learn more about Windows tablets and other devices, and will be beta testing a Windows 8 tablet starting in May, he said in an email interview.
Fell is more interested in Windows 8 running on x86, instead of on ARM, and wants to be able to use the tablets "to run the corporate apps we have already invested in." So far, Terex doesn't have any Android tablets that it supports, but has a variety of X86 computers and thousands of workers on smartphones, including BlackBerry and iPhone, with only two people using a Windows Phone.
Fell theorized that if Microsoft gains a "significant foothold" with tablets that can run a company's corporate apps, then Microsoft "might leverage the tablet users" into using a Windows Phone.
From a corporate perspective, he said, "Windows 8 seems very interesting." Even though Microsoft isn't planning to support migration of its Windows 8 on ARM to Android machines, Fell joined some other IT pros in saying the approach could have some value. "I could see why this would be a great strategy for Microsoft," he added.
Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, said Microsoft is trying to produce a closed tablet like the iPad which will "bring the OS battles to tablets." Ultimately, he fully expects some manufacturer to produce an open tablet that will make it easier to swap operating systems.
Agam Shah of the IDG News Service, contributed to this story.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.