According to a recent Bloomberg report, Microsoft is finally getting into the custom silicon business. It looks like they are starting down this road primarily to aid their cloud and server business, but it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have future plans to bring these new ARM-based chips to their Surface Pro X and other future models, replacing Qualcomm’s SQ1 and 2 processors.
The $10,000 question is, why did Microsoft wait this long? Why did they bother messing around with Qualcomm to produce ARM chips for the Surface Pro X only to get mediocre results from a chip that still isn’t fine tuned to both the hardware and Windows 10? Those results were completely and totally predictable. They took the easy way out and the Surface Pro X, while a really slick looking device, isn’t going anywhere because of it. Who wants to pay more and still have to make compromises in both performance and compatibility?
The other head-scratcher is that Microsoft had a head start of over a two years down the ARM for Windows path and over a year with the Surface Pro X before Apple got into the game. And make no mistake here: EVERYONE who knows anything at all about tech knew Apple was working on moving the Mac to ARM all of that time.
Microsoft certainly did, but they haven’t acted like it. They didn’t make the move to an in-house processor until now. They haven’t incentivized developers to make ARM-compatible apps. They haven’t even fully released emulation for 64-bit apps, as it’s just now rolling out in beta. In short, they haven’t lead the way. Maybe they didn’t take Apple’s capabilities seriously, but I think it’s clear now that they really blew it by taking such a conservative approach.
I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t think the M1 would be as impressive as it’s proven to be. I figured it would be really good. I assumed it would be thought of as a great first step and that Apple would really nail it with their second gen effort sometime next year. It’s usually that second or third version of a new hardware product when Apple really hits its stride.
However, we all know now that Apple didn’t need a second try to get their ARM chips for the Mac right. The benchmarks and tests have been out of this world and the real-world results of the new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini continue to impress long after release. Apple accomplished the equivalent of Babe Ruth walking to the plate, calling his shot and putting the ball there with a single swing. The M1 machines are setting a new standard for traditional computing, and based on other recent reports, Apple is really going to blow us away next year.
Microsoft’s failure of vision and execution in their slow-motion move to ARM is underlined by Apple success. I understand that they are weighed down by the legacy support that Windows requires, but that doesn’t mean they can’t move toward the future in a more aggressive manner. I also understand that they have a difficult job getting developers to make this move, as they don’t have the full control of the hardware and software ecosystems that Apple does.
However, rather than just force-marching devs to adopt ARM at gunpoint, what Apple really got right is providing a compelling vision for WHY they should move. I’ve been seeing comments from numerous Apple devs who WANT to move based on what they are seeing. The new M1 Macs offer great performance and battery life. Buyers aren’t being asked to make major compromises or concessions the way that Surface Pro X users are. Apple has also made it easy to port apps, and even more importantly, they have delivered a great emulation solution in Rosetta 2. It runs rings around Microsoft’s X86 emulation, which again, is just now moving into offering 64-bit compatibility.
I’m sure most Microsoft fans and Windows users would accuse me of being just another Apple fanboy at this point. However, I have been a Windows user for life and have never even owned a Mac. That may change in the not-too-distant future thanks to the performance and forward-looking direction of the M1, but I still haven’t taken that plunge.
While I mainly stick with Windows because I need it for work and because it’s what I know, I still have a vested interest in that ecosystem. Because of that, I want to see Microsoft moving forward, modernizing Windows, and fully embracing touch and pen input as equal to mouse and keyboard. I want to see them get serious about support for ARM processors and moving toward the future.
Now what I want to see is Microsoft respond to getting its ass beat down by Apple in this transition to ARM. Hopefully, this news of Microsoft developing its own processors is the first step in that process.