Thanks to Windows 11, Microsoft is going to help Apple sell a lot of Silicon Macs.
Last week, I pondered the potential scenarios for PCs that would be unlucky enough to make the upgrade cutoff for Windows 11. I thought, for sure, that the cutoff would be 32-bit hardware, and most, if not all, 64-bit systems currently running Windows 10 would be able to run the updated OS.
It’s not the kind of change that will break apps or orphan the majority of PCs, although there is the outside possibility some older systems, such as 32-bit machines, may be left out — and, frankly, those machines are very long in the tooth.
But the reality is, for 90% of us, if we have a PC that is running Windows 10 today, at some point in the fall, Microsoft is going to offer us an upgrade through Windows Update, and it will be painless just like any other fall update.
Well, it turns out I was incorrect. ZDNet’s Ed Bott has done considerable due diligence into which systems will be able to make the transition. He has now determined that the group of orphaned systems is much larger than either of us previously thought. It’s also not as cut and dry as Microsoft initially communicated either.
Now, it’s one thing for a computer industry pundit to talk about orphaned systems and discuss them impartially. It’s a whole other thing to own such orphaned systems yourself.
Heck, I fully expected my two current Windows boxes that I use for testing to make the Windows 11 transition so that I would be able to test the product and write about it. Those “old” systems that would be stuck on Windows 10 until support ended in 2025? Nah, that wasn’t me. My boxes were going to be OK.
Wrong. As I soon learned, my systems are not immune.
What Windows 11 means: We’ll be stuck with millions of Windows 10 zombies
In 2017 I bought a Dell XPS 8900 (Core i7-6700) as my main Windows 10 testing machine and an HP Proliant ML10 with a Xeon Bronze for Windows Server and virtualization. They’ve both hit the 4-year mark and are current with patches and such. They both run fine, and the software on them will be supported until 2025 (January 2024 in the case of Windows Server Essentials 2019).
But I fully expected these boxes to work with Windows 11 and Server 2022, either physically or virtually. As it turns out, they won’t make it as they are six (in the case of the Dell XPS 8900) and seventh-generation Intel systems. Both have TPMs that can do version 2.0, but it’s the processor generation that sets them back and prevents them from moving on.
Disclaimer: I have not been a mainstream Windows user since 2019, as I have used Macs in my last two corporate jobs, and most of my apps have been web and cloud-based. My Windows boxes have been used for testing to stay current with advances in the industry as a technology writer. Even for storage, I’ve moved most of my important documents and files to the cloud.
I fully expect to test Windows 11 and Server 2022 at some point in the future. But now, if I want to do that, I’ll need to buy new equipment — or use Parallels or VMWare Fusion on my Macbook Pro, which seems to be my best option.
There are other considerations: Windows 11 is primarily a user experience update. Nothing is being introduced along the lines of new APIs or SDKs that would benefit next-generation apps that would compel one to buy a new system.
To replace or not to replace
Windows 10 is also is going to get the new Windows Store that is premiering on Windows 11. It already has the security enhancements; it already has the new Chromium-based Edge. The apps (and the all-important PC games) are not different, and while there are some optimizations, they do not run better in Windows 11.
So in the areas that truly matter, Windows 10 is just as good as Windows 11.
I am not buying a new machine to play with the unique user experience in Windows 11. There has to be something tangible besides a UX that will compel me to buy a new box or a pressing need to do so, such as an EOL on the support that drives me to make replacements.
My systems are four years old. Historically, I would start thinking about replacing them now based on my previous behavior of doing so every five years. But I feel they have at least two more years of life left in them, and the workloads on them currently run fine. So if the apps are not going to change due to the new OS requirements and the machines are running well, I will not buy new systems. Period.
I suspect that small and medium enterprises are mulling exactly these sort of considerations too.
In terms of personal technology, I now have to think about what I invest in going forward. As someone who has been a Mac user for the past three years and has bought a lot of Apple tech, I’ve gotten used to the Mac and iOS/iPadOS stuff and — I dare say — enjoy the tight integration of this ecosystem.
Right now, my work-issued 2019-era Macbook, purchased in early 2020, is an Intel machine. It runs great and has the latest Monterey beta on it. Based on Apple’s current Monterey support, which even has some 2013-era Mac Pro systems on it, I expect the laptop to take another two or three OS version updates from Apple before my employer wants to decommission the asset. By that time, Apple will have wholly transitioned from x86 technology to Apple Silicon. Assuming I am still working for my existing company by then, it will likely be replaced by an Apple Silicon Macbook.
My wife’s laptop, an older Dell, has a 3rd-generation i7. Unfortunately, it’s very creaky and crusty and doesn’t run Windows 10 that well. In addition, it has an older, slower WiFi chip that can only do 2.4ghz networking. I need to replace it — but considering my wife loves her iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, I think I’m going to pick her up an Apple Silicon Mac Mini or a Macbook Air in a few months.
My parents also have Windows boxes dating probably back to around 2016. They’ve been reluctant to make replacements, but they’ve also invested in various Apple gear, such as their iPhones and iPads. Considering that I have to be the one to support them, I will most likely recommend (excuse me, insist) they also move to Macs when it is time for their boxes to take the rainbow bridge.
Planning for a move to Apple Silicon
For myself, a new, powerful Mac Mini box would undoubtedly allow me to reduce my energy consumption for running a bunch of different workloads, and it would take up a lot less space than both of those big desktop systems. In addition, I could use it to replace my Dell 8900 and my HP Proliant ML10 if I had one with enough memory in it, like 32GB or 64GB. Unfortunately, Cupertino does not sell a Silicon-based system with that much memory today. Still, I think it’s not unreasonable to assume one is likely to materialize within a few months or within the next year when we see an M1X or M2 refresh.
And even though it is Arm-based, if I wanted to run Windows 10 on one of these systems today, I can run a 64-bit system virtualized using software like Parallels for Mac, with little or no performance degradation. The M1 running it virtualized allows it to run up to 30% faster than on a comparable Intel Mac.
Now, the Windows that runs on Parallels for M1 is the native Arm version of Windows 10 (albeit an Insider Preview), but it can run 32-bit x86 apps and 64-bit ones are forthcoming. We will know more about Windows 11 on Arm likely sometime in October when we hear about the actual release pipeline from the Surface team. So depending on one’s use case, it might make sense to hold off on buying a new Windows laptop now.
There is currently no evidence that the Arm version of Windows 11 will run flawlessly on Parallels, as the software now only supports DirectX 11, and Windows 11 is DirectX 12. But I doubt DirectX 12 will be a dealbreaker; I expect Parallels will support it when the Arm version of Windows 11 is ready.
Am I going to move my Windows workloads over to an Apple Silicon box like this tomorrow? Probably not. There isn’t even a way to license Windows 10 on an Arm-based Mac yet. But I suspect by the time I need to be able to do this, two or three years from now, it will be not only sorted out from a technical standpoint, but Microsoft and Apple will have figured out how to do this from a licensing standpoint.
Who knows? Maybe Parallels becomes a Windows 11 Arm retail distributor in this situation, as they do with the x86 version today. On the other hand, maybe Windows 11 will run on Mac’s built-in hypervisor without the need for 3rd-party solutions like Parallels, and Microsoft resells it on the App Store or by some other mechanism.
Or maybe Microsoft decides it isn’t in their best interest to let consumers run Windows on Apple Silicon and never makes the ISOs or a binary distribution available — at least, that is what Ed Bott believes.
Who needs PCs that get orphaned when you have the cloud?
Or, we end up running Windows 11 workloads on Azure, which is already a valid way to run Windows today. Currently, Microsoft does this with VMs as provisioned resources on enterprise Azure accounts with the right set of Windows, Office 365, and Client Access License (CAL) entitlements. But, unfortunately, your average small business is not set up to do this today, and indeed, it is not a viable option for a one-person shop or a consumer who wants a Windows desktop in the cloud.
But two years from now, I think that is likely to be a very different story. Microsoft isn’t the only hyperscale provider with cloud Windows desktops today. This will become a very competitive space in a few years as cloud density increases due to containerization instead of VMs to run the instances. Additionally, the use of Arm server processors themselves in the cloud — courtesy of Nvidia and Qualcomm, will make them much less power-consuming. They will also be much denser computationally in terms of how you can populate racks of systems — resulting in much less expensive desktop cloud instances than what exists today.
And how to access these cloud desktop instances? You guessed it: With existing PCs, iPads, and Macs, and — when those need replacement — with thin-client, low-power, inexpensive smart terminals using Arm and open-source RISC-V processors. With systems that have the complexity of a Raspberry Pi. This includes monitors with embedded systems and other solid-state, fanless devices with integrated 5G, WiFi and ethernet networking, graphics acceleration, HD sound, and 6-plus year service lives.
Something that costs around $200 as an endpoint that requires no management beyond occasional firmware updates and configuration pushes.
I’m done with x86
As the Wall Street Journal noted recently, Arm-based architecture will be a much more compelling story for PC end-users in about two years. At least in terms of looking at it from the perspective of the M1 chip today, with the latest Mac systems, they are much more powerful, computationally, per watt, and are just greener and more efficient, period — not to mention packed with Machine Learning goodness.
So I am not upgrading my PCs because who knows, based on this observed behavior, what Microsoft and Intel are going to orphan next — in the next few years, they could just as quickly dump 8th or 9th-generation Intel chips for some arbitrary cutoff as they’ve decided for the 7th-generation. I am done with the churn.
Could Microsoft backtrack on this over the next few months based on the blowback they are receiving? Maybe, but I don’t want to play this game anymore. To quote Danny Glover’s character Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, I’m getting too old for this shit.
As I have been saying for at least a decade, 45 years with Intel architecture is enough. It’s time for me to move on. If Microsoft and their OEM partners come out with compelling Arm-based systems from Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Intel that’s competitive with Apple’s offerings in a few years, great, I’ll be happy to look at one. But for now, my plan going forward is to invest in Apple Silicon Macs and cloud services, where eventually, I think most of my Microsoft workloads will live.
Has the revelation that your 7th-Generation Intel system will not move on to Windows 11 got you steamed? Talk Back and Let Me Know.