Friday, June 10, 2016

It's an interesting time in computing...

Interesting stuff is going on these days. Consumer spending in computing is down - mostly because we're at a comfortable level of processing power with the given applications we use. Consumer spending on the whole is actually up, so it's an indication that consumers have shifted away from buying computers.
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Intel announced it will cease making their Atom line - The atom line didn't make much money for intel, and while it started off a very weak processor it ended up becoming a monster for the price and power. Current Atom CPUs stack up against ARM's best chips, while providing the capability of running full and proper Windows 10, or linux apps requiring x86 architecture like Skype.
Since it's inception, the CPU developed performance orders of magnitude greater. Out of order processing and going to quad core pushed the performance into mainstream acceptable performance, getting featured in several common laptops, and microsoft's own surface.
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Intel's decision to stop producing Atom CPUs has several implications. The Atom based processor was cheap. It graced many Chromebooks and low power windows laptops and tablets. It was running in phones and android tablets. The tiny Intel compute stick is probably the smallest computer you can get, boasting decent specs for someone that just needs a little pc to get on the internet - and that sold with windows 10 for less than $150. The Intel alternative is the Core-M. More performance, and much more cost. The Core-M version of the compute stick is over $400. Are you willing to pay 3x the price? 

Many chromebooks are using baytrail/cedartrail newest iterations of Atom. What happens to them? Chromebooks are attracting customers because they're cheap. They will lose that advantage (if sticking to Intel low-power).

There's also a portability aspect. It's efficient, but not as efficient as atom. It's not going to get into phones and small tablets any time soon.

So what's going to happen?

The biggest loser here may be Microsoft. Microsoft's low cost cloudbooks, tablets, computer on a stick - They lose their appeal if they become large and heavy to hold a more powerful Core-i3, or expensive to hold a Core-M.

Chrome OS and Android OS systems have the alternative of using ARM chips. There are many companies making them, and this is, or was intel's main competition. 

Intel is pretty much giving up market share to ARM. If Microsoft has a more difficult time at the lower end of the market because of rising small laptop/tablet prices and a rising power envelope then they will lose market share to Chrome OS, Android, and iOS (Apple's creates their own ARM based CPUs for iOS). Microsoft's Windows RT doesn't count. It continues to receive poor reviews, because it's limited to only a subset of windows store applications. No desktop mode, no x86 Windows application compatibility has stifled the usability of this OS for most. Companies rarely make RT tablets these days because they know they don't sell well, and have high returns. If more and more chromebooks migrate to ARM, then manufacturer will also probably shift their focus to ARM - which can potentially cost intel more than intended, even in higher end markets.

Microsoft is doing some interesting things with Linux. Windows 10 will let users run Linux packages. By including bash, and other packages, Microsoft is probably hoping the stem the flow of more servers joining the linux ranks.
I support both Windows and Linux application servers. Both developers and I are happiest with Linux. The ease of administration, stability of the OS, and number of free enterprise level software packages available make it an easy choice. Powershell is arguably more powerful than bash, but it is also more complex, and often inconsistent. Shared SSH keys also let us write scripts to let our linux servers share information for basic scripts. They're just more setup needed to accomplish this for our windows servers.
Most major application backends may also run a combination of Windows and Linux. There's usually some packages that needed to be run on windows - so running bash, and linux packages means it's possible to consolidate multiple applications on one server. As long as the processing power is there, that's a good thing.

Chrome OS can already give us linux thanks to crouton. What's really cool, is that now the Android play store is also coming to Chrome OS. This give Chrome OS users applications from 3 different environments to work in. Boot up and use Chrome OS in seconds. Use Linux when the need for heavy work comes up. Use google's play store for any android application. With some Chromebooks now supporting touch, this can become a pretty exciting laptop.

ARM has come a really long way. The Raspberry pi computer is probably near enough to the level of cheaper atom based systems that it's almost enough to use as a general purpose PC now, or media center. Odroid (a similar type of board) definitely has the power for this.

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