LAS VEGAS—Microsoft Corp. said Wednesday (Jan. 5) that the next version of its Windows operating system will support ARM-based chips, confirming months of speculation that the software giant would broaden support for Windows beyond x86 platforms.
The next version of Windows—presumably to be called Windows 8—will run on ARM-based SoCs from Microsoft partners Nvidia Corp., Qualcomm Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc., as well as x86 architecture products from Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Microsoft announced at a press event on the eve of the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
"Windows support for SoCs is an important step for Microsoft and for the industry," said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, in his annual pre-CES keynote address Wednesday (Jan. 5). "Increasingly, people want a Windows experience on all of their devices."
Microsoft had for years resisted calls for the company to add support of ARM-based devices to Windows—though Windows CE has supported ARM devices for some time. Lack of Windows support was once seen as limiting the growth potential of netbooks and other lower cost devices that use ARM-based devices. However, the emergence of Google Inc.'s Android operating system—and its subsequent momentum—changed the equation, and likely persuaded Microsoft to act to stem Android's momentum and open the door for the company to new kinds of low cost, low power products like tablets.
Speculation had been building that Microsoft would support ARM for months, particularly after Microsoft licensed the ARM core from ARM Holdings plc last July but declined to reveal its plans. Late last month, ARM's stock price spiked after rumors circulated that Microsoft would announced Windows support for ARM at CES.
On Wednesday, Microsoft executives showed demonstrations of a still-in-development form of the next Windows running on machines powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon, Nvidia's Tegra and TI's OMAP. Microsoft did not say when the next version of Windows would be available, or disclose any other features of the forthcoming operating system. The demonstrations of the next generation windows running on computers with ARM-based SoCs used the same user interface as Windows 7.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer delivers CES keynote Wednesday.
Windows support for ARM is considered a game changer that could cut into Intel's dominant position in the microprocessor market and further ratchet up the competition between Intel and ARM. But it is believes that x86 will still have a leg up running Windows, as many applications and tools have hooks into the x86 that would give Intel—as well as AMD and Via Technologies—advantages in some markets. On Wednesday, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Mike Angiulo showed demonstrations of Windows 7 running on systems with Intel's recently launched second-generation Core processors that take advantage of the graphics acceleration technology offered by those chips.
"We are entering a new era for consumers where you can use Windows anywhere you go from the small screen to the big screen," Ballmer said Wednesday.