Is the Intel-Microsoft Marriage Shaky?

In the days of Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 98, Windows 2000, and also Windows XP, there was always a need, albeit a small one, to upgrade hardware to extract the maximum benefits from the operating system upgrade. This led to a natural (perceived) marriage between Microsoft and Intel.

There was a feeling that, though certainly articulated in places we were never allowed to know, a very complicit arrangement was begun, where the symbiotic relationship between these companies was architected and defined as it would be over time. The media condensed it to something like, “When Microsoft decides it’s time for some innovation, it will make sure that all the new features and power of the latest Intel processors will be put to full use.”

Somewhere during the lifespan of Windows XP, Microsoft let Intel down. Perhaps it came with the push from AMD and the Athlon64 series of processors. That was certainly a wake up call for Intel, and led to the now famous Tick-Tock  timetable. But then Vista came along.

Vista did not take full advantage of anything new or different in the Intel processors, without additional software (Virtual PC 2004, Parallels, etc.), and since the 64 bit version of XP was never really fleshed out, or pushed, it was almost silly to try to use guest operating systems on top of XP or Vista within the 4 GB memory space. By the time Vista was loaded up, and its memory footprint accounted for, there was not much room left for that virtualized operating system to do anything in any useful way. Oh sure, it was fun to play with, and, in some cases, servers could virtualize an OS and the lag for the user would not be that noticeable.

But for the common man, on his own PC? No way. Too many limitations.

Now the trend in computers is mirroring the economic times, and the pared down netbooks, using Intel Atom processors are in need of a lightweight operating system from Microsoft to really sell them – at least from that Wintel perspective.

It seems Intel does not think that Microsoft has really stepped up to the plate with Windows 7. Also, Microsoft really doesn’t want to sell a full copy of XP anymore, and the crippleware version of Windows 7 will not cut it for today’s users. Once a user hears ‘artificial limit’ Windows 7 starts leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

So you see, there is a huge opportunity for open source and Linux now, as these operating systems are easily pared down for this duty. Asus has done it, and the idea that the operating system adds only insignificantly to the cost of the computer is an idea that makes sense to Intel and its customers.

Now from Betanews, an Intel insider gives an opinion that verifies the shaky state of things between the companies-

It may be the clearest demonstration to date that the working relationship between Intel and Microsoft is about as loosely coupled today than at anytime in the companies’ histories. A very frank but official blog post from Intel software engineer Josh Bancroft, dated Tuesday, warns prospective netbook buyers that one of the elements not revealed by Microsoft’s not-very-revealing announcement on Windows 7 SKUs earlier this week concerns licensing fees.

“Currently, when Microsoft sells a license of Windows XP on a netbook, they’re making very little money,” writes Bancroft. “They would have preferred to stop selling XP altogether a long time ago. But the low cost of an XP license adds very little to the overall cost of a netbook — important when you’re selling a device for $300-$500. No one but Microsoft knows how much it will charge for the various versions of Windows 7, but it’s safe to assume that it won’t be much (if at all) cheaper than Windows Vista. And adding, say, $100 to the cost of a $400 netbook just to pay for Windows 7 is going to be a tough proposition all around.”

This is especially true when the customer finds out that the reasoning for the forced move to Windows 7 over Windows XP is purely monetary.

Bancroft also states he’s impressed with the performance of Windows 7 on netbooks, noting that this new edition has made inroads on platforms where Windows Vista had failed. But he then asks a series of rhetorical questions of his blog readers, including whether they truly believe the almost certain price premium that Starter Edition (his candidate for the netbook platform of choice) will add enough perceived value to a netbook product over and above a Windows XP-endowed version, to justify the price premium. He throws in the discovery that Starter Edition has an apparently artificial multitasking limit of three applications at one time, a limit XP does not have.

Would you want to be told you can’t use all the power in your netbook? Aren’t we past artificial limitations?

Intel has an interest in a netbook operating system of its own, specifically a streamlined Linux distribution called Moblin. [Industry Standard reporter Lincoln Spector spotted this blog post first.]

If Microsoft was ever able to see outside of its own monetary aspirations, it might have been possible to think back to Windows 2000, and deliver a refined version of that operating system, with the latest support grafted in, to almost literally fly on netbooks. This would make those users happy, and keep any talks of this special version of Windows from migrating to desktops, leaving the road clear for Windows 7. (There are those who will say that having a uniform interface, [Windows 7] on both netbooks and desktops is desirable; it won’t really be the same, given the screen size differences, so that is a red herring.)

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