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Intel Execs Dish Dirt on Windows 8 Versions, Microsoft Fires Back

Intel executives this week disclosed some new information about Windows 8, revealing that Microsoft's next desktop OS will ship in multiple versions, each aimed at different chipsets and usage scenarios. The revelations quickly reignited tensions between the companies, with Microsoft denying Intel's claims.

To understand this week's drama, you need to first understand the history. Today, mainstream versions of Windows run on Intel (and Intel-compatible) "x86" microprocessors, which include both 32-bit and 64-bit (or "x64") versions. But Windows 8 will also be ported to the competing ARM platform, which to date has been used only for highly mobile non-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets.

This change means Windows can be used more ubiquitously across new device types. But it also means that Intel could see its first serious competition, from a microprocessor standpoint, for the first time in years. The Microsoft/Intel duopoly in the PC space has often been referred to as "WinTel" (for "Windows + Intel").

So what did Intel say about Windows 8 out of turn?

"The ARM guys are getting a port to Windows, but it's really four ports since every OS has to be written to a chip," Intel CEO Paul Otellini said at his company's annual meeting. "So Microsoft is really doing four ports of Windows to ARM."

While Otellini didn't provide more details about these alleged four versions, an accompanying slide suggested that these versions would each target different versions of the ARM core as well as an ARM system on a chip (SoC) implementation.

Separately, Intel General Manager Renee James said that there would basically be two major versions of Windows, one for Intel chips and one for ARM. This is roughly what Microsoft has described. The Intel version will have a "Windows 7 compatibility mode," however, which is new information, a feature that ARM versions of Windows 8 will lack.

Meanwhile, the ARM SoC version(s) will deliver "a new mobile experience" for tablet devices and ultra-mobile clam shell-type PCs, and won't run backwards-compatible applications. This experience is likely the tiles-based UI that some have likened to the Metro user experience on Windows Phone.

With Intel's revelations getting widespread news coverage this week, Microsoft quickly issued a predictably prickly statement. "Intel's statements during [the] Intel Investor Meeting about Microsoft's plans for the next version of Windows were factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading," the statement reads. "From the first demonstrations of Windows on SoC, we have been clear about our goals and have emphasized that we are at the technology demonstration stage.  As such, we have no further details or information at this time."

Microsoft will likely wait until September to further disclose its Windows 8 plans. The only announcement the company's made so far regards ARM compatibility, which Microsoft President Steven Sinofsky revealed in January at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Note: This article was originally titled "Intel Execs Dish Dirt on Windows 8 Versions." It's been updated since the original posting to address Microsoft's response.

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