LONDON — Microsoft's move to take an architectural license from ARM does NOT necessarily mean that the software giant is about to announce Windows 7 support for ARM processors any time soon. But it does mean that ARM support for Microsoft in consumer applications and Microsoft support for ARM in PCs is looking not only likely, but strategic for both companies.
And so Big Windows on ARM may well happen as a consequence of Microsoft becoming closer to ARM and seeing their futures more closely aligned. But to focus on what little detail has been provided so far, an architectural license from ARM is primarily about freedom of action in chip design - and differentiation from all the other ARM partners who are taking individual core licenses.
So why is Microsoft getting deeper into the chip design business? Well, right now Microsoft isn't saying, but it looks like this might be a case of Apple-envy. Apple is believed to be an unannounced architectural licensee of ARM and to have used it to good effect in creating the A4 processor used in the iPad tablet computer.
"This is a very significant announcement for ARM because it implies that Microsoft could go down the same route as Apple and design applications processors for multiple end-markets, including mobile computers, MP3 players, Xbox and others," Didier Scemama, head of European Technology Research with Royal Bank of Scotland, told EE Times.
"The second quote provides the clue that Microsoft is looking to broaden its R&D into server and computer applications," he added. In a note to clients Scemama also said: "This deal substantially raises the odds that Microsoft supports the ARM architecture in next-generation Windows-based PCs." Microsoft only supports Intel's x86 architecture for PCs today and withholding that support has appeared to have curtailed ARM's success in the netbook market, at least to date. However, that has also been a double-edged sword because Linux based operating systems, running on ARM, have started to gain traction in the vacuum left by Microsoft's lack of support.
"It [the deal] may not have much earnings impact [for ARM] over the next two or three years but over the next four or five years ARM is going to be more competitive in CPU applications." It is also seems to support ARM's attempts to promote its Mali graphics processor, Scemama said, which would have a negative impact on graphics core licensor Imagination Technologies Group plc.
It is logical that just as ARM can help Microsoft perform better in the consumer space, Microsoft could provide ARM with better access to the 400 million plus units-per-year personal computer market.