There is no denying that the strategic ‘Wintel’ arrangement has been instrumental in both Microsoft’s and Intel’s success in their respective markets. But now that almost 20 years have passed, its seems that Microsoft might be ready to consider other alternatives, and ARM is supposedly on the list of supported platforms for a future version of Windows…wait, ARM? This could get rather interesting.
As far as desktop and notebook computing goes, there is no reason to go for any other hardware platform that is not compatible with the x86 architecture, and for very good reason. The x86 architecture has come a long way since its introduction way back in 1987: today, the performance of x86 processors are unrivaled as far as desktop and notebook computing is concerned.
However, the growing demand for smartphones and slate PCs mean that demand is slowly shifting from full-powered desktops and notebooks to much smaller gadgets which can perform some of the basic functions of a PC. And this is one area where ARM reigns supreme over x86 due to its expertise in extremely low-power technology. As smartphones and slate PCs are designed to be “always on”, the relatively high energy requirements of x86 processors like Intel’s Atom and AMD’s Athlon Neo means that such chips are not suitable for use in the aforementioned devices, where long battery life takes precedence over performance
And apparently, the growing prominence of such devices has reached a point where it appears that Microsoft can no longer afford to ignore the potential of having ARM as a supported platform. Online publications such as Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and Engadget are citing “sources” which claim that Microsoft is due to make a historic announcement about Windows offering compatibility with the ARM architecture. No other information has been made available from Microsoft’s end, so it is hard to determine Microsoft’s exact plans for the ARM architecture, and when a Windows build featuring ARM support will be rolled out, if at all.
That being said, it is easy to see why Microsoft would be interested in flirting about with the idea of ARM compatibility for Windows. After all, Windows CE, which forms the backbone of the well-known Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 smartphone operating systems, already features support for ARM. That, along with the fact that Windows Phone 7 is doing rather well on the market considering its late entry into the recent smartphone OS war is a clear sign that there is money to be earned by making an ARM-friendly OS that would fit into slate PCs and smartphones.
And if one takes into account the statements made by Steve Ballmer recently about the Redmond giant’s efforts to put Windows 7 into slate and tablet PCs, it is hardly surprising that Microsoft might just consider breaking the “Wintel” restriction if it could pave the way for Microsoft to muscle its way into the slate PC market. And with ARM currently backing the efforts of OEMs keen to push out a new breed of ARM-powered, always-online laptops known as smartbooks (which Google’s Chrome OS is targeting), it would make perfect sense for Microsoft to play nice with ARM in order to gain a foothold into a market which it would otherwise never have a chance to break into.
However, as there is no official confirmation from Microsoft about this bit of information, it is impossible to accurately predict the software’s giant’s intentions about ARM support on Windows. For all we know, this could be a large amount of hype over nothing, as ZDNet is predicting that Microsoft could either be preparing for new release of Windows CE or a completely new, standalone ARM port of Windows 8 that will a ‘chopped-down’ version of the actual Windows 8 desktop OS. In other words, everything that is related to the news of ARM compatibility in Windows is entirely up for speculation at this point of time, and we can do nothing but to wait and see what Microsoft will come up with next year.