Microsoft: Next-gen Windows will run on ARM

Microsoft has announced that the next version of Windows will run on “System on a Chip” (SoC) architectures including ARM-based processors. While Microsoft was making this announcement, NVIDIA was busy teasing us with something called Project Denver — an upcoming high performance ARM chip that will be able to run desktop operating systems. You know, like Windows.

Microsoft says Windows will also be able to support chips from Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and others, as well as SoC platforms from Intel, AMD, and other companies working on x86 SoC architecture.

This means support for hardware-accelerated graphics in Windows, the full version of Internet Explorer, and other Windows apps will work on ARM-based chips.

This could have huge implications for low power ARM-based tablets, notebooks and other devices, but it also means we’ll likely see a growing number of high performance chips from companies like NVIDIA designed to change the way we think about the distinctions between desktop and mobile computing applications.

You can check out a video of NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang teasing the new Project Denver CPU after the break.

  • Kevin

    At the risk of seeming enthusiastic about accuracy, Microsoft already has several version of Windows that support ARM, and they’ve supported ARM longer than almost any other vendor. I think that you mean that the next version of Microsoft’s flagship desktop operating system will also support ARM. I know this seems like a stupid distinction, but there’s a big difference between doing what Apple did, waking up a few years after a switch to x86, which was preceded by a long stint on PowerPC, to suddenly try to support ARM on a brand new mobile platform and doing what Microsoft is doing, leveraging its decade of experience on ARM hardware to integrated support for that platform into its well-established desktop operating system lineage. Your article implies, to people who don’t know any better, that Microsoft is suddenly interested in ARM or is bringing out a new product, which can’t be any less true. In fact, many experts suspect that Windows desktop products have been running on ARM for years within the R&D halls.

    • Guest 2

      Windows 8 desktop OS on ARM is a new product. It is very different
      from the Win NT ports to Itanium, Alpha, etc.

      My understanding of what MS has done here is that you can take any of your existing x86 software and install it on Win 8 on any device, and run the x86 software. No recompiles, translation, or conversion required on your part.

      Doubtless, MS has a translation or emulation built in, similar to what Apple had done during its own transition from PowerPC to Intel CPUs. It’s likely due to the translation required, Windows 8
      for ARM will require a multi-core CPU to avoid a sluggish OS
      experience.

      Provided that the device has enough horsepower and a
      decent screen interface, you could be hard pressed to tell the
      difference between the ARM-based device and an Atom-based
      netbook.

      The previous MS ARM operating system products were based on WinCE or its siblings like Pocket PC or Handheld PC. These OSs
      were not able to execute x86 programs, only ARM programs

      There may not be a need for ARM-specific Windows 8 SKUs, as
      long as the storage space requirement and memory footprint are
      manageable.

      Of course, MS’s problems aren’t all solved. Windows requires a
      keyboard and a mouse. It requires as big as screen as you can
      throw at it. MS has to retool the user interface to be acceptable
      on low res and finger friendly capacitive touch screens.

      • John Morris

        No. You won’t run existing x86 apps on any potential Windows 8 on ARM port. x86 has the excess CPU grunt to emulate ARM but there ain’t no way in heck any currently shipping ARM product could emulate an x86 fast enough to be useful.

        .NET apps currently running on Windows are of course a different kettle of fish.

        But all of this is missing the elephant in the room. Does anyone actually believe Microsoft will ever release Windows on a new platform? Of course not. They will release an iPad like walled garden product that will be tied to Microsoft’s new app store. The days of closed operating systems allowing third parties to target them without the OS vendor getting a taste of the revenue stream are dead and gone. They have been doing it for decades on game consoles, Apple proved beyond a doubt that phone customers will stand for it and now the iPad proved it on tablets.

  • Anonymous

    Finally. One of the major obstacles with smartphones, etc. is that they CANNOT replace your laptop if you have to run desktop windows software. By supporting ARM in window’s desktop versions, it allows for increased connectivity between smartphones and PC, allowing you to continue to work without access to a PC.

    In addition to empowering smartphones by running full-fledged OS, netbooks can now run windows without power hungry atom platforms (when compared with ARM platforms). Perhaps we will finally see laptops that last days, like cellphones.

  • John Morris

    That Microsoft is porting Windows to another arch isn’t anything new. They have done MIPS, PPC, Alpha, Itanium and x86_64 and probably had others running in the lab. The news, if you read the whole press release at MSFT, is they demoed Office running native. That is new, no other port had Office unless it could somehow run the x86_32 version (Alpha via FX!32, Itanium & x86_64 via native x86_32 instruction support) and it was assumed porting Office wasn’t practical. Perhaps that limitation has now been resolved.

    Now we see if they have been using the years they SHOULD have seen the growing rise of ARM coming to solve their even larger problem. Even if Microsoft ports they have to find a good reason why the multitude of 3rd party developers want to expend the effort to port. Remember, most target Windows on x86 because it is the bulk of the market and Windows on ARM will be a smaller segment than Mac or Linux for the first few years. Unless they can either make it very easy or can bully them really hard they will face a chicken & the egg problem similar to what others have faced.

    And at any rate, with this announcement the WinTel alliance is now shattered. Intel (and AMD) had for years flirted with Linux even if mostly on servers but now both sides are formally see other people.

    • axp64_lover

      Actually you are wrong about the old Alpha CPU.
      Microsoft made NATIVE office 97 for the Alpha processor without emulation in both word and excel.
      In the stillborn windows 2000 for Alpha they integrated Fx!32 into the OS, but genuine office for AXP also functioned fine on that.

    • Seljo_myeri

      I suspect the reason that Office was ported now is that more and more of it is running in the CLR (.NET). MSFT HAS seen this coming and is why they designed .NET the way they did, and have been pushing it for the last 10 years. As a developer, I am quite familiar with .NET, and I know that .NET code can ALREADY be compiled for ARM; it’s called Windows Phone a.k.a Phone 7 (previously Mobile). Though the .NET framework supported on that version of Windows is a subset of the desktop version, it is very feature rich and the main problem I have seen porting is inefficient code that a desktop can handle fine, but a mobile platform chokes on. If they have a full desktop Windows version for arm in the future, porting code that runs will be even easier. It may not run well, but it will run. I suspect that demo version of Office is not 2010 that is selling now, but a derivative of it with some of the design efficiency issues addressed. I doubt it is ready for the wild, yet, but it is promising.

      This touches on another subject I do not understand. That is why does MSFT seemingly insist on pursuing only full desktop multitasking versions of windows on tablets? They could have competed with iPad within 3 months if they had only taken there Zune platform and put a larger screen on it. That hardware is very robust, and it runs what later became Windows Phone 7, which is very nice to use. Unlike Windows Mobile. That was always a pain b/c it didn’t have the touch screen tech that we have now (relied on stylus).

      • Seljo_myeri

        By easier, I mean as easy as a compiler setting. Now it is a compiler setting + resolving any use of unsupported .NET Framework classes when going to Phone form desktop + application code efficiency. The difference between .NET frameworks on desktop Windows vs Phone wouldn’t exist (or would be much less) if desktop Windows ran on ARM. That only leaves application level code efficiency to address. Which many will leave to hardware to solve for them.

  • http://jamesmsingleton.com/ jimsing59

    This is needed for netbooks now. James M Singleton suggest a dual core processor for netbooks right now. Avoid buying a new PC if you can until Windows 8 arrives.