Windows 8 is shaping up to be the best OS Microsoft has had in years, but limitations around ARM-based tablets and concerns over x86-based model pricing could sour the platform's launch later this year. Microsoft has mandated that ARM Windows 8 machines - expected to be the bulk of low-cost Windows 8 tablets - must have their Secure Boot system locked down, ComputerWorld reports, or in order words users must not be allowed to load non-Windows platforms onto ARM hardware.
According to a document titled Windows Hardware Certification Requirements, which Microsoft released last month, the company confirms that it is up to manufacturers as to whether Secure Boot is locked down or not. For x86-powered PCs, notebooks and tablets, OEMs are free to decide which way to leave the settings; however there is no choice for ARM-powered models:
"MANDATORY: Enable/Disable Secure Boot. On non-ARM systems, it is required to implement the ability to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup. A physically present user must be allowed to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup without possession of Pkpriv. Programmatic disabling of Secure Boot either during Boot Services or after exiting EFI Boot Services MUST NOT be possible. Disabling Secure MUST NOT be possible on ARM systems" Microsoft
"We are introducing capabilities that provide a no-compromise approach to security to customers that seek this out" Microsoft Ecosystem team member Tony Mangefeste wrote back in September, when Secure Boot issues were first identified, "while at the same time full and complete control over the PC continues to be available." The decision appears to be one that would prevent ARM hardware from being repurposed from running Windows 8 and instead coaxed into loading Linux-based platforms, such as Android, or, as The Verge suggests, dual-booting between them.
As for x86 machines, concerns have apparently been voiced from notebook vendors that Intel-based Windows 8 devices will have entry-level pricing considerably higher than ARM-based counterparts - either running Windows 8 or another OS - as neither Microsoft nor Intel are willing to subsidize software or hardware. Microsoft has refused to discount Windows 8, DigiTimes reports, and Intel won't countenance Clover Trail-W price cuts for tablets, it's said, as they each fear a knock-on effect on the gross margin of general PCs.