Windows coming to ARM

Today, at a special press event Microsoft announced that it would be bringing its popular desktop operating system, Windows to the ARM SoC (System on a Chip) architecture. ARM is a popular processor architecture used in smart phone devices such as those manufactured by Research in Motion, Apple Inc, and manufacturers such as HTC running Windows Phone 7. The ARM architecture is currently incompatible with x86 software which runs on the vastly popular x86 architecture manufactured by Intel and AMD. Microsoft President for Windows Stephen Sinofsky promised to have Microsoft Office ready for the ARM architecture by the time Windows on ARM is released.

Windows ARM

Next version of Windows version 6.2 build 7667 source

Not much was shown, but a screenshot indicated that Microsoft is now on kernel version 6.2 for the next version of Windows (Windows 7 is version 6.1, Windows Vista is 6.0). The build demoed was 7667, Windows 7 is build 7600, this probably means Windows on ARM is a long ways off. Here is what Microsoft had to say.

“the next version of Windows running on new SoC platforms from Intel running on x86 architecture and from NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments on ARM architecture. The technology demonstration included Windows client support across a range of scenarios, such as hardware-accelerated graphics and media playback, hardware-accelerated Web browsing with the latest Microsoft Internet Explorer, USB device support, printing and other features.”

“Intel and AMD continue to evolve and improve the x86 platforms, including new low-power systems, and advance new designs such as the recently announced 2nd Generation Intel Core processor family and AMD’s Fusion accelerated processing units (APUs). NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments are joining Microsoft to provide ARM-based designs for the first time.”

This is certainly a big deal, but should not in anyway be alarming. The industry has evolved tremendously since the days of WINTEL which described the tight relationship between Microsoft and Intel in the 90’s. Intel has been very supportive of other architectures such as Mac OS X and Linux for years. Microsoft’s own history of supporting multiple processor architectures goes far back. Windows NT was originally designed to be a highly portable operating system, meaning it can be ported to run on other processor architectures. In fact, early versions of NT (3.1 to 4.0) supported now obsolete architectures such as PowerPC, MIPS and Alpha. In the 2000’s Microsoft introduced support for the 64 bit Intel Itanium instruction set. which Microsoft plans to end support with the current version of Windows Server 2008 R2. 

In 2005, Microsoft once again optimized Windows for another architecture, the AMD 64 bit processor. The ARM architecture is the latest in the line of CPU’s that Microsoft is now supporting. Some of the key advantages include performance, longer battery life and the increasing usage in a long line of new mobile form factors such as Netbooks, Tablet/Slate and Convertibles. We should see some very interesting and exciting products come on market in the future. The designers of ARM are even planning to bring their processor to the server room, which should improve efficiency and power usage.

2 Comments

Filed under Windows 7

2 responses to “Windows coming to ARM

  1. !Xobile

    “early versions of NT (3.1 to 4.0) supported now obsolete architectures such as PowerPC, MIPS and Alpha”.

    I never heard that PPC, MIPS and Alpha are “now obsolete”. PPC is the basic instruction set for ARM itself, and PPC is still being used on a variety of appliances, including gaming consoles such as XBOX 360! The MIPS is still used in other home appliances such as DVD players, and Alpha is still being used in automotive industry, airplanes and spacecraft computers, yes, nowadays!

    • Hi !Xobile,
      Thank you for your comment. When I said obsolete I meant in respect to the PC Ecosystem. I am sure you won’t find PowerPC in any brand new desktop or laptop computers at Best Buy or the Microsoft Store, neither will you find even the MIPS or Alpha in such systems. You can’t compare a console to a PC either, if a Console was a PC, then it would be running Windows or the XBOX would be running Windows. So I still stand by opinion, the industries you will find most of these architectures are considered niche.

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