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Posted at 7:05 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Microsoft to ship Windows for ARM processors

By Rob Pegoraro

LAS VEGAS: Windows will no longer be tied to Intel processors ... eventually. Microsoft announced that the next major release of Windows--which it's not calling "Windows 8," although many people already are--will ship in a second version compatible with the compact, energy-efficient ARM processors used in many mobile devices.

But it's way too soon to think about picking out a carrying case for a future ARM-based Windows netbook or tablet. Presenter Steven Sinofsky said Microsoft was planning to stay with its usual goal of shipping a new Windows release every 24 to 36 months, which means this would arrive, at the absolute soonest, this October.

But considering that an ARM version requires major rewriting not just of Windows but also of every single application running on it--ARM "isn't in tune with" virtual-machine support that could allow Intel-based apps to run in the new release--it could take a lot longer.

Microsoft does have some experience with supporting Windows on different processor architectures: its Windows NT operating system came in versions for PowerPC, MIPS and Alpha chips as well as the traditional Intel hardware. But it began phasing out those versions in the late '90s, and none survived NT's replacement by Windows XP.

The other problem is that many Windows software developers have had a hard time keeping up with much smaller changes by Microsoft. The companies that took years to update their apps to run properly in Windows Vista and in the 64-bit versions of Vista and 7 probably aren't going to be leading a charge to ship parallel ARM and Intel releases anytime soon.

(Apple has had far fewer issues in its own forced processor migration from PowerPC to Intel chips; Mac users also benefited from a largely seamless compatibility layer that ran PowerPC software on Intel-based machines without making them painfully slow.)

The most immediate effect of Microsoft's ARM ambitions may be what this means for Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. As NPD analyst Ross Rubin commented afterward, this move means Microsoft's impressive phone software won't show up on any tablets or other bigger-than-phone devices, because it would get in the way of the upcoming ARM version of Windows 8 ... or whatever it might be called.

Microsoft's briefing also featured a display of such upcoming laptops as an odd Acer model that incorporated a second touch screen in place of a keyboard, and a look at a new version of its Surface touch-screen technology that's thin enough to fit into a hanging screen instead of being confined to a table or a kiosk.

Will you put an ARMed version of Windows 8 on your shopping list for a tablet in 2012 or 2013? Let me know in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  | January 5, 2011; 7:05 PM ET
Categories:  CES 2011, Computers, Gadgets, Tablets, Windows  
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As I noted elsewhere, any application written in standard .Net should run on the Arm with, at most, a recompile.

Posted by: wiredog | January 6, 2011 7:40 AM | Report abuse

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