Genie To Bottle Microsoft

How far should Microsoft feel threatened by Linux? Quite a bit, if ARM’s CEO Warren East is to be believed.


“Today the Linux world is not as good as Microsoft from the point of view of the user, but it’s getting rapidly better,” East told me this afternoon, ”so it will get to be as good as Microsoft and, when that happens, the genie will be out of the bottle. Because Linux is much more cost-effective than Microsoft. People will ask: ‘Why do we use Microsoft?’”


East told the FT  recently that ARM “almost doesn’t care” that ARM-based netbooks will not be Windows-based, pointing out that if people find Linux and Android just as good an experience as Windows, then Microsoft’s reluctance to get involved doesn’t matter although “it’s a dangerous missed opportunity for them”.


It is thought that Microsoft is steering clear of ARM-based laptops because of its ties to rival processor firm Intel and because it thinks the fee for the operating system on a sub-$200 netbook isn’t worth having.


ARM is saying that the new ARM processors, Cortex A8 and A9, which will be used in the netbooks coming out this year will be deliver a “desktop-class user experience” while using ten times less power than Atom.


East is expecting about ten ARM-based netbooks to be out on the market this year and is preparing a four core ARM – the Cortex 9 – which is expected to give as powerful a processing experience as an Intel Atom, but with less than a tenth of an Atom’s power consumption.

Tags: ARM, arm processors, cortex, Microsoft

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  1. David Manners
    May 05, 2009 14:17

    Geoff, changed as directed, David

  2. Geoff Revill
    May 05, 2009 13:59

    Let me add in 1 additional element to this conversation.
    Business Models: for application OSes on devices are changing. The two legacy ones are Microsofts and the traditional embedded Linux ones. For high volume consumer devices (like netbooks) Microsoft are changing their runtime pricing but not their model (yet). For Linux most vendors are tweaking their pricing for volume but not adjusting their models significantly. But then enter Android, with a whole new business model based on the cloud computing concept.
    It would take a long article to describe the differences I refer to here, but in essence, Microsoft has a high up front fee to allow device developers to leverage their brand (which has high value in consumer…still) and a high cost of integration (due to their lack of openess) and a high per copy royalty. Overall expensive, but the brand is worth it to some consumer device manufacturers.
    Linux has a relatively low commercial development license fee (from the commercial Linux vendor for consumer devices), a relatively low integration cost due to openess, and a very low royalty cost. But has limited brand value in consumer.
    Android is different. Its cost of entry are even lower than traditional linux, runtimes are non-existent, AND you get Google brand value….whats not to like from a consumer device manufacturers perspective?…well, its early days so the key word here is RISK…and a lack of clarity as to how exactly build in and leverage the Google revenue model into their own business. When Android is used Google are ‘buying’ consumer device user mind share….but what exactly will Google do with that once they have it? Imagine 10 years from now, Microsoft dead or dying, Google reins supreme, if you as a device maker cannot leverage the google model you are more at risk then you were when you relied on Microsoft…the devil maybe, but the devil you know. You could go pure Linux and carve your own route to market, but do you want to go up against the combined might of Microsoft and Android/Google in the application OS war? Probably not….but then if your device was not an open application platform, but instead was dedicated to a specific function, then all that OS brand value has limited value to you or your consumer, so use pure Linux, it’ll work fine (if it can meet your real-time requirements).
    In short, I am not sure I’d have quite taken the stance Warren East has on this subject.

  3. Cheese
    May 04, 2009 07:27

    Phew, so I did set a cat amongst the pigeons! Let me wave the white flag before more flame comes my way.
    Linux on a X86 PC is free. (yes, I can say that again). Linux on a device is not free. Yes, I can say that again too. I wish Linux on devices would be free. I wish I could install new apps on my camera, my mobile phone and on my DTV like I do on a Linux X86 PC. But this is not the case, and will likely stay that way. No amount of flaming can change that.
    Netbooks, as I see them evolve, will be a new species – something between a phone and a laptop. Let me admit (thanks to the flaming that got me re-thinking) that there is a good chance that Linux distros become available for (certain classes of) netbooks. And then, me with my flamers are walking, netbooks in hand, into a golden sunset.
    But there is probably an equal chance that netbooks take time to become a true commodity platform. Read this as the battle of ARM vs the Atom vs the MIPS. And Flash vs OpenGLES. And frameworks and browsers and Java and….
    While these battles are being won and lost, Linux merchants will trade their wares. And yes, I believe Linux (free or merchandised) is good.

  4. David Manners
    May 02, 2009 13:12

    Now, now, now, Wayne, whatever your view on Linux distributions, there’s no need to take that tone with Cheese.

  5. Wayne
    May 02, 2009 00:37

    Cheese, you’re an idiot. How much did Microsoft pay you to spout all that PR gobbeldygook?
    I guess you’ve never heard of Linux distibutions. Oh wait, maybe you have. You couldn’t POSSIBLY be that stupid unless you’re being deliberately so. No one with half a brain is buying your garbage.

  6. David Manners
    May 01, 2009 11:31

    Mad Man, my friend, I did not say any of the stuff you attribute to me. So you are probably off-target, my friend, probably.

  7. Mad Man!
    May 01, 2009 11:27

    David Manners,
    You are very uneducated / ill-informed about how Linux users get their “Linux boxes” up and running. 99.9% of Linux end users install a distribution or use a pre-installed one and most definitely do not use vanilla kernels and build there own device drivers. Vanilla kernels would normally, solely, be used by distribution builders (in the windows world OEM’s if you like). There is of course a huge addition to the LINUX stack too, or more correctly the GNU Open Source FREE Software stack that gets packaged up with Linux Distributions. When you “buy” windows for £x or $x you get an OS with pretty much nothing else. When you install a distribution you get a huge choice of both free and proprietary applications too out of the box and a wealth of other products that you can add. Windows my friend is very expensive you have to pay for everything nothing is free. (Unless you install open source applications which I wholly recommend over paying What $400 for office for instance).
    Now that we have cleared that up let move on to your other point. Suppliers of services (in your words “merchants”) are available to the Linux User and embedded device suppliers alike the difference of course is that there is a choice as to whether you take it or not.
    I was going to go further and write a greater rebuttal of your other statements when I noticed you using the word probably so I’ll just say that you are probably wrong my friend on all of this :-)

  8. David Manners
    May 01, 2009 11:18

    Thanks Arun, I too think the question was misunderstood. I couldn’t get my head around why an LTE platform would be useful for netbooks later this year!

  9. Arun Demeure
    May 01, 2009 08:23

    As John said, what is ARM Windows going to bring? In my opinion, unless nearly all existing software works without any porting effort, it will just confuse customers and risk even higher return rates than Linux x86 netbooks. The ONLY way this can work is if you’ve got automatic ISA transcoding like Apple did to switch from PPC to x86… This could work with a multi-core Cortex-A9, but I don’t think Microsoft will do that by themselves, so who will?
    Cheese, nobody’s going to ask $15 for mobile Linux license fees though. Even including the other aspects you point out, I suspect it’s more similar to Windows CE, which for a long time hasn’t cost more than a few dollars if you do most of the customization yourself.
    Which brings up the third alternative: Windows CE with a custom (3D) UI. That’s what NVIDIA is doing (see: ), altough it’s not clear how successful they are in Netbooks (versus MIDs where they’re doing great). It’s not a perfect solution, but cost-wise it’s certainly not very different from Linux.
    Qualcomm stated once that WinCE 7 would be a huge improvement for Netbooks, so presumably they’re working on that too in the 2010 timeframe. I think that’s certainly MS’s answer to the ARM Linux threat in the short-term; in the long-term, what I’d really want to know is what ARM thinks of transcoding from x86 to ARM to run existing Windows applications. If they aren’t planning to do that, I’m not personally convinced it makes sense.
    Cheers, Arun
    P.S.: I heard you on the ST-Ericsson call yesterday, and it seems to me they completely misunderstood your question (or rather, the one who answered did, the other probably got it right!) – M700 is a LTE modem, not a netbook chip. Certainly it could be used for LTE netbooks along with an application processor and the M570 or M340 for 3G, but that’s not really the point. Just google it and you’ll see what I mean.
    I think the correct answer is that the U8500 is a viable platform for the Netbook market, although they aren’t targetting it very aggressively right now. But if Nokia wanted to make a Netbook, they’d be likely to use that one.

  10. 34346
    April 30, 2009 21:38

    “The common man on the street will not go to to download the Linux kernel and then to a dozen other websites to get other goodies.”
    Have you ever tried any modern Linux distribution? I don’t think so.

  11. C. Whitman
    April 30, 2009 18:59

    Well, Cheese, I don’t totally disagree with you, but it’s not as simple as that either.
    No, the common man on the street will not build a Linux operating system from scratch. However, in general, he doesn’t have to do this to get Linux for free.
    For the common x86 class architecture, there are plenty of distributions that you can get for free without going to a Linux merchant (not that there could never be an advantage to going to a merchant). I have ordered all the parts for a computer separately, put them together, and installed a downloaded Linux along with many applications without paying anything for the software on the machine.
    Of course, it’s easy to say that I am not the common man, being a computer professional. However, it is possible if you know a tech type (hobbyist or professional) to get them to install Linux on a machine for you without paying for any software. (Technically, you could say without paying extra for software, since when you use services or products from a company that contributes to Linux or other open source development then you are paying toward Linux or other open source development.)
    However, you do have a point about Linux not being free at least when it is pre-installed on a computer or a device. It can easily, though, still be lower cost than Windows, and this is why: There is a certain amount of work that goes into configuring/customizing an operating system to operate on a particular device. This work is a cost above and beyond the price of a software license regardless of whether the operating system requires a license fee, so it affects Windows as well, and quite possibly as much, as it does Linux.
    A manufacturer of a computer (or hand held computing device) has to prepare an operating system install that will make their device work correctly out of the box (unless you are talking about an MSI netbook :-)). This will either cost them labor to do it themselves, or money to get someone else to do it for them. For Linux, this could be the only cost involved, since there will most likely be a version of Linux obtainable for free for any given architecture that Linux supports. Depending on how much expertise the manufacturer has with a particular operating system, the maturity of existing distributions for some particular hardware, and other factors, this cost can be just as low or even lower for Linux than for Windows. Windows, however, has always had the additional cost of the license fee itself.
    What this ends up meaning is that, even if Linux may not be cheaper to pre-install at the beginning, it will most likely become cheaper over time. Linux turns the operating system into a commodity expense (a big difference from a proprietary operating system), and makes the market more competitive.

  12. David Manners
    April 30, 2009 12:58

    Interesting stuff, Cheese. But are the angels on the side of the Pope? Or Linux? My feeling would be Linux

  13. Cheese
    April 30, 2009 04:25

    Let me set the cat amongst the pigeons. From an end-user perspective, Linux is NOT free. Yes sir, Linux costs. Probably not much lesser than windows. To me, this makes perfect business sense. But of course, this is not what one hears from the open source brigade. So, allow me to explain.
    The common man on the street will not go to to download the Linux kernel and then to a dozen other websites to get other goodies.
    There are Linux merchants out there (in the cloud, to use the currently fashionable term) who have created a business of packaging freeware goodies, thus offering “value” at a price, to the end-user who doesn’t understand the innards of Linux and related software.
    There are also Linux merchants out there who offer Linux for devices. They charge license fees to the device maker in the name of support. So, a device company that migrates from a real-time-kernel (RTK) to Linux is simply changing “vendors” and is probably paying more to the Linux vendor than it did to it’s simple/old RTK vendor. If device makers are stepping away from old RTKs to Linux it is not because Linux is cheaper or free, but because moving to Linux makes their devices contemporary – by offering new features (such as connectivity). And device makers being who they are, de-risk their business by choosing not to go for a DIY-Linux and instead by going to a vendor supported/guaranteed version.
    If anyone still assumes that Netbooks running Linux will be cheaper than Netbooks running windows, they’ve got it plain wrong.
    The market place is a great leveler. Microsoft will be pushed to reduce prices for their “device” version while Linux merchants will be pushed to improve usability. Google’s Android is exactly that – A Linux version with a vastly improved usability (for device makers and end-users). In the end, all players in the market (if they survive), will have comparable “value propositions”. (BTW, isn’t this the basic definition of “market”?) Comparable value propositions will imply comparable featuring, but also comparable cost-to-customers. So Linux will not be holier than the Pope (of Redmond). It does enables a new consumer choice though. And that is good.
    PS: Will Android change the world? Not really – we all pay Google a lot of money every single day. Google offers Android for “free”, but we pay a lot indirectly, as cost-ups for everyday products and services that we consume – who are forced to use AdSense. So, there is no free lunch. No free beer. No free software.

  14. David Manners
    April 30, 2009 00:15

    Well, John, Microsoft moved pretty quickly when it looked as if the OLPC machines might all be Linux. It’ll be interesting to see whether and when and why and at what point they’ll assess that it’s in their best interests to port to ARM.

  15. John Morris
    April 29, 2009 20:59

    More importantly, while Microsoft has demonstrated an ability to port their NT based systems to non-x86 platforms the ISVs have equally demonstrated an unwillingness to port the applications that make Windows an attractive platform.
    Thought experiment time. Years of begging has failed to move Intuit to port Quicken or Quickbooks to Linux/x86. Now either Microsoft is illegally blocking a Linux port or they just don’t see enough potential customers to justify it. So what would make them think they would move enough copies on Windows/ARM to justify the effort? Quickbooks costs about as much as these ARM netbooks are going to retail for. I doubt Microsoft’s own applications division would port any more than they did to NT/Alpha unless a direct order came down from on high.

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