Both Intel and AMD came out last week with chips that are focused on "Windows 8 first" and don't even pretend to be openly documented or available to all. That both would so suddenly reverse course on being open was a surprise. There are good reasons why Microsoft needs advanced access to integrate their software with innovative new processor technologies, and why AMD and Intel might be persuaded to cooperate. Together they are defending the "Wintel PC" ecosystem against the world's largest corporation by market capitalization, Apple, who is engaging in "vertical integration" by designing software and processor and other platform technologies together in a way that optimally balances the tradeoffs between what hardware best does and software best does. That is powerful leverage. But for Intel and AMD - and you and I - this is a trap and the consequences of this solution are dire.
It's about software patents. By Microsoft convincing Intel and AMD to focus on Windows only for the launch of these new power technologies, to secretly work with Microsoft on development, Microsoft get a jump start on the software patents. While the hardware interface is obfuscated Microsoft has six months to a year to file for patents on every possible software use of the hardware interfaces they can think of to use it. You can bet they're churning out patents by the hundred as I type this on things anybody reading the plain specifications would find obvious but the patent office will not. Microsoft will own utterly all the software uses of this hardware innovation, and by extension prevent all progress it enables that Microsoft does not control. Because of the ridiculous way patents work, this hands Microsoft complete control not only of these innovations but the entire systems which use them, of which they compose only a miniscule part.
Then when the facilities are openly documented and the open systems come out that leverage these technologies: BAM! Software patent lawsuits out the wazoo, and the Windows monopoly is protected against competition and progress for another human generation - unless Intel and AMD are killed utterly. Much like Samsung makes the touchscreen and owns huge patents on the technology, and then Apple and Microsoft sue Samsung for making devices incorporating touchscreens because they patented software that interprets certain software implementations of swiping and tapping.
As an unintended consequence Intel and AMD -only- get to move forward if Windows moves forward since Microsoft has all the patents on using the technologies they invented. By selling Microsoft this advantage for whatever they got in return, they've mortgaged their future to a single vendor and lost their ability to compete in open systems against ARM and Android. They've sunk their own boat. They can expect that Microsoft will use that lever to best advantage against their "partners" Intel and AMD, as Microsoft never misses a trick in that regard.
Intel has announced that "future platforms" with their technology will be open to Linux. AMD has announced that "Hondo" is being retrofitted with Android. Unfortunately, it is already too late. They have been cooperating with Microsoft secretly for many months before these announcements. The first patent applications on the most obvious uses of this hard-won hardware innovation are almost certainly already filed, with more to follow.
Don't pay to make yourself a victim again. Avoid these chips and anything tainted with this technology. Make AMD and Intel start from scratch, open from the start, if they want your money. At least then the open software implementations have a fair shot at establishing free and open prior art before Microsoft's lawyers have a chance to file their stupid software patents. Only with open hardware with well-documented interfaces available from the start can progress move forward, and even then only if the people who want to do interesting useful stuff step up and publish at least one way to use it before somebody who wants to control it utterly and prevent others from using it can whip up their patent thicket applications and beat them to the patent office.