For Microsoft, it’s Haswell that ends well

For Microsoft, it’s Haswell that ends well

commentary Intel’s power-efficient Haswell chip could enable a
range of devices with the battery life of Surface RT with the power and
— more importantly — backward compatibility of the Surface Pro.

Throughout their history, Intel and the x86 architecture for which it
is known have played a pivotal role in the platform war between Apple
and Microsoft.
IBM’s decision to use Intel chips for the original IBM PC led to
Microsoft supporting that landmark computer, and Windows grew on the
back of backward compatibility with DOS apps that ran on those chips.
Years before Windows RT, which runs on ARM processors, Microsoft tried
to move beyond Intel by supporting other processors with Windows NT, but
those versions were discontinued.
Apple, meanwhile, couldn’t take advantage of many apps that required x86
processors (especially games). A partnership with Motorola and IBM to
create a credible rival to Intel with PowerPC collapsed even after it
took jabs at the Pentium’s heat output. Advantage: Microsoft
 In 2006, following its struggles to get a PowerPC G5 into its laptops,
Apple finally switched to processors from Intel, which had now gotten
power-efficiency religion. The switch brought an interesting side
benefit. Macs could now dual-boot into Windows — or even run it
simultaneously with OS X using software from VMWare and Parallels —
even though it required the purchase of a full Windows license. Still,
the move accelerated the
Mac’s growth despite the difficult transition, putting it on a path to creating the ultrathin
MacBook Air that spawned the ultrabook push. Advantage: Apple
More recently, faced with increasing competitive pressure from ARM,
Intel has become even more fanatical about extending its processors’
power efficiency. This has been dramatically proven by its latest Haswell processors found inside the new MacBook Air.
In the 13-inch model, battery life has been extended from seven hours
to 12 hours (some tests have found it to last longer), finally enabling a
longstanding industry holy grail of all-day battery life in a sleek
form factor.
But while Apple clearly gains from these improvements, Microsoft and its
partners may gain even more, at least on a relative basis, The promise
of 10-plus hours on a screen of 10-plus inches enables an ultrathin
notebook, tablet or mutation running Windows to rival the running times
of today’s tablets while retaining backward compatibility. These PC
industry stakeholders have been betting big that that the PC can adapt
to cover the range of usage scenarios that Apple’s MacBook and iPad
lines do, but in a single device. In other words, Haswell could enable
something with the battery life of Surface RT with the power and — more
importantly — backward compatibility of the
Surface Pro.
It’s not a complete victory for Microsoft. Just as such a combination
would put more competitive pressure on Apple and Android tablets, it
would put more pressure on ARM-based Windows RT devices, at least in the
short term, Again, though, competitive tablets rely far more on the
differentiation of ARM chips than Microsoft and other PC companies do.
Indeed, Windows RT will never take off until there is a critical mass of
touch-centric apps. These won’t be built until developers can latch
onto the huge sales volumes of Windows 8 and its Intel-targeted
successors. 
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