CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

Summary: If Microsoft does, indeed, end up showing Windows 8 on ARM at CES this week, it will be the end of an effort that's been a long time in coming.


CES 2011

Todd Bishop at TechFlash has joined the ranks of folks saying Microsoft is going to demo Windows -- not just a variant of Windows Embedded -- on ARM at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. Bishop also said he has it on good authority that Microsoft already has lined up chip makers Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to make ARM processors that can run Windows.

Bishop said it won't be Windows 7 or some interim variant running on ARM that gets its day in the CES sun. Instead, it will be Windows 8, though Microsoft won't publicly acknowledge that name. (Does that mean we're supposed to keep using "Windows Next"? Sigh. I'd guess that means Microsoft won't be sharing anything new this week about its next Windows release either... like a tentative schedule or feature list.)

If Bishop is right on all counts (Microsoft isn't commenting), Windows 8 -- expected by many to be released to manufacturing in late 2012 or early 2013 -- will be the first full-fledged Windows release to run on ARM, and not just Intel and AMD processors. (I speculated it might be Windows Embedded, but noted that if it were full-fledged Windows and still a couple years off, it would likely be Windows 8. All I can say is I hope Microsoft has an interim tablet/slate solution in the works, because Windows 8 is still pretty far off...)

This Windows-ARM port didn't emerge out of nowhere.

Microsoft and ARM already had agreements in place dating back to 1997 allowing Windows Embedded and the Windows Phone operating systems (built on top of Windows Embedded Compact) to run on ARM processors.

Microsoft originally was shooting to get full-fledged Windows on ARM several years ago, back in the Vista days, according to my sources. (The porting project was known as LongARM.) Work/consideration continued with Windows 7, with the Softies ultimately deciding against releasing a version of Windows 7 for ARM -- in spite of the One Laptop Per Child contingent's attempt to force Microsoft's hand.

Microsoft in July 2010 signed an architecture license for ARM, becoming the fourth company to do so. (The other three: Qualcomm, Marvell Semiconductor and Infineon Technologies. A press release from ARM quotes KD Hallman, a Microsoft General Manager, as saying “with closer access to the ARM technology we will be able to enhance our research and development activities for ARM-based products." Microsoft officials declined to comment further as to what the company intended to do with the architecture license.

CEO Steve Ballmer is keynoting CES on January 5 at 6:30 p.m. PT. Hopefully something, though most definitely not all, will be revealed regarding Microsoft's slate and tablet plans....

Topics: Microsoft, Operating Systems, Processors, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

    If the rumoured build number is starting with 6.2.78xx I'd rather think it would be SP2<br>

    • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

      @hans.vredevoort@... Minor version numbers don't change with Service Packs. It is almost certain than it will be 6.1 build 7602<br>as in Windows Vista<br>RTM was NT 6.0 build 6000<br>SP1 was NT 6.0 build 6001<br>SP2 was NT 6.0 build 6002<br>and in Windows 7<br>RTM is NT 6.1 build 7600<br>SP1 is going to be NT 6.1 build 7601 (confirmed)
    • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

      If its build 6.2 then it won?t be a service pack, but be called something like Windows 8 wonderful edition. Windows 7 is NT 6.1 so 6.2 would be considered ?New OS?.
    • First, I had to look up ARM

      On wiki:
      "The ARM is a 32-bit reduced instruction set computer (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) developed by ARM Holdings. It was known as the Advanced RISC Machine, and before that as the Acorn RISC Machine. The ARM architecture is the most widely used 32-bit ISA in terms of numbers produced.[1][2] They were originally conceived as a processor for desktop personal computers by Acorn Computers, a market now dominated by the x86 family used by IBM PC compatible and Apple Macintosh computers."
      THEN I found "As of 2007, about 98 percent of the more than one billion mobile phones sold each year use at least one ARM processor."
      WHAT does this have to do with Operating systems?
      I use my phone to CALL people. It doesn't need to surf the web, etc. That's what a computer is for. Looks like "ARM" has one market locked up and doesn't need another.
      • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

        Notice it says IBM compatible, meaning WINDOWS computers. That's all they are. IBM should have cut this windows crap right at the start and not allowed it!!
      • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

        @janitorman -

        Chips based on the ARM design (or the "instruction set" to be technically accurate) are general-purpose computer processors, much like Intel's "Pentium", and "Core i5" (etc) chips are also general purpose computer processors. ARM chips are often used in mobile phones, and handheld computers, and also in "embedded devices" such as disk-drive controller cards, etc., because they generally use very little power.

        You might only need a phone that makes calls - but the fastest growing part of the mobile phone market is in "smartphones", which include the ability to run small programs (called "apps"), have web-browsers, cameras, and play music and often video. This means these "smartphones" are actually small, handheld computers with phone-radios in them, and so ARM chips are used to power almost all of them.

        As ARM-based chips have gotten faster and more powerful, they are starting to match what the lowest-end chips from Intel and AMD can do; and so people start to wonder, "Why can't I run Windows 7 on a low-power notebook that uses an ARM chip instead of a chip that uses Intel's "x86" instruction-set (read: "design") from Intel or AMD?"

        Mary-Jo Foley is speculating that maybe, in the near future, people will be able to do just that.
      • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

        I worked on the ARM when it was still part of Acorn (1986-7) and at the time of its launch it had the highest MIPS per Watt rating of any processor in the world - which is why it's so popular in battery powered devices even today. Why shouldn't we use such a processor in desktop and/or laptop computers when we are all looking for ways to reduce energy consumption and increase battery life? I had an Acorn PC with both an ARM chip and an 80486 so it could run Windows on the '486 and RISCOS on the ARM. The '486 needed a fan to keep it cool; the ARM didn't. By eliminating the need for a fan, not only are we reducing energy consumption by not producing heat but we're also eliminating a point of failure - the fan which, if it fails, can lead to processor 'melt down'. When I bought my first IBM-compaticle PC with a '486 running at 33MHz, I also had an Acorn PC with an ARM running at 8MHz. I had similar BASIC interpreters for both machines and on running an identical repetitive loop test program on both machines, the 33MHz '486 took 1.59 seconds and the 8MHz ARM took 1.61 seconds. If today's ARMs have even half this level of efficiency compared with today's Intel/AMD processors, I'd say the way to go is with ARM. What's ironic is that Intel gained a licence to manufacture ARM chips when it bought out Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) so moving to ARM wouldn't do Intel any hARM!
      • I had a similar experience

        @john.foggitt, I had a 3d graphics program I had written on an Apple II. I was anxious to see it run on an IBM PC. The Apple had an 8-bit, 1 Mhz 6502, and the PC had a 16-bit 4.77 Mhz 8086. I was expecting quite an increase in performance. The speed increase was negligible. I surmised it was still 8-bit basic running on the PC, but still. I was disappointed.
  • Funny comment

    [i]Sigh. I?d guess that means Microsoft won?t be sharing anything new this week about its next Windows release either? like a tentative schedule or feature list.[/i]

    When MS doesn't release info about an upcoming product, people complain that they don't know what to expect.

    When MS does release info about an upcoming product, MS is accused of trying to freeze the market with vaporware.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    PS What is the feature list of the iPad 2? Apple has released that info, right?
    • but when apple does the EXACT same thing

      by not saying anything then there allowed a free pass because theyre just "being mysterious and exciting" even if all they release was a updated apple tv or an aluminum body for a laptop.
      Ron Bergundy
    • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM


      "When MS does release info about an upcoming product, MS is accused of trying to freeze the market with vaporware."
      I don't think anyone accuses MS of freezing the market anymore.

      Apple, on the other hand, can and does sometimes. There's really no other reason to announce a product 3+ months in advance like they sometimes do, unless it's to avoid disappointing the analysts and corresponding dip in stock price or maybe to build anticipation and mind-share.
      • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

        Oh, we still accuse them, and they still do it -- just look at the HP Slate announced last year this time as a FUD weapon against the rumoured iPad. MS just doesn't have the mind-share to pull it off the way they used to. Apple's got that crown now.
    • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

      @NonZealot The only thing Microsoft freezes is the buffet line when Ballmer is around.
    • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM


      First off, Apple software already runs on ARM chips.

      It is the same software that runs on Intel chips.

      iOS is a variant of Mac OS X. Microsoft will never be able to replicate that.

      Their primary software, Windows, is a very thristy cow. Microsoft doesn't have the stamina to do what Apple did when it went from Mac OS 9 to OS X. Microsoft is caught in the past and that's where they want to stay.

      They still think they can coax their users to stay in the past also.

      I know that they can't slim down Windows ( 7 or 8) to work on other platforms than te x86 chips.

      Let Microsoft impress us!!
      • Wow youre wrong on everything in there

        windows on arm will be much closer to windows on intel than ios is to osx. windows has a very very thin hardware abstraction layer so that for all the different processors it supports it's very litte difference.

        windows is not very thirsty and can run on very small hw.

        MS already did what apple did from os9 to osx. it did it before apple did when it went from win98/ME to NT/2000

        They dont need to slim it down to run on other platforms. That doesnt even make any sense to say. They have and will continue to make it run on any platform they want. arm is not even in the top 5. They can customize windows for any form factor from smartphone to data center. an arm version for a phone would have less in it than an arm version for a tablet might, which would be less than a version for an arm laptop or desktop. an arm server would depend on server role.
        Johnny Vegas
      • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

        @Rafale555 ... Apparently you've never actually heard about, paid attention to, or looked at Windows Embedded of any variety. Windows, in some form, has always run on alternative processor architectures.
      • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

        @Johnny Vegas<br>Arguments of this sort venture very quickly into sophistry, like arguing over how many angels may dance on the head of a pin.<br><br>According to the Stanford University iPhone/iOS application development courses, iOS is an interface layer on top of a BSD layer on top of MACH, as is OS X. What does that mean? I suppose that system calls are the same. Many frameworks work the same in OS X and iOS. There are difference and these are processor motivated: garbage collection comes to mind, though I assume that Android, based on java, garbage collects on the same processor architecture.<br><br>As for Windows, I don't have a clue, but I would guess the kernels are very similar across the spaces and the services and apis are some what different. Are the system calls the same? Uh, uh, uh. Does it matter?<br><br>OS9 to OS X was a jump comparable to Windows 98 to Vista. This is not an "Apple is awesome" point I'm making. MacOS 8 multi-tasking was non-existent. Using BSD/MACH is architecturally that good. (Though, I'm told that BSD, up until 7 or 8, which was relatively recently, had architectural flaws which meant that threaded services, mySQL, for instance, performed better on Linux. Nothing's perfect.) Vista also featured a new graphical interface that was conceptually similar to Display PDF used in OS X 10.0. Who did it first? NeXT and/or Sun. <br><br>Any way, is iOS on ARM farther from OS X on Intel than theoretic, probably-to-be-announced Windows on ARM in 2012 to Windows on Intel?<br><br>As with all good things: life, angels on a pin, how many licks to the center of the Tootsie Roll Pop, I suspect the answer is 42.
      • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

        @Rafale555 A few versions back, Windows NT supported MIPS, DEC Alpha, PowerPC and X86 architectures. It was *designed* to run on multiple architectures!
    • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

      @NonZealot <br>In the consumer electronics space, I wholeheartedly support keeping mum about devices until they are ready to roll or must be announced because regulatory filings will reveal them. For operating systems, I don't mind if they're pre-announced, but when the release dates arrive, please have them polished. (Apple does fall short here.)<br><br>When discussing the business space, long pre-Beta announcements and distributions aid in helping the os writers and the professionals who insist on testing completely prior to deployment.<br><br>A Windows on ARM announcement with [expected] 20-24 month lead time raises the question whether this is about sending a message to the users, IT staffs, mobile device makers, Intel, or financial analysts. I mean, come on Mr. NZ, even you, vanguard protector of Microsoft's feelings, might admit that 2 years out is a horse of a different color from later this year. Maybe not.<br><br>I ask though, what are the odds that the r&d folks at Redmond haven't been compiling Windows 7 for other processors all this time? I put it as very low. (Of course the gap between running and great user experience is a wide one, and the latter is what is required for shipping.)
    • RE: CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

      @NonZealot -

      I think that would be a fair point (about Apple being held to a different standard regarding product announcements, roadmaps, etc), except that most major companies in the U.S., and really globally, don't need to plan massive migrations of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of users from iPad to iPad v2. With Windows, on the other hand, an incredible amount of planning and testing is involved, so that companies know their employees will be able to still use the many business applications the company depends on; it's a bit like the difference between Boeing's need to put out a roadmap for the airlines, verus Cessna's ability to be "mysterious and suprising", since there aren't many billion-dollar enterprises that rely on updates to Cessna's planes. So in a way, yes, Microsoft is (and should be) held to a different standard, since their product (Windows OS) is critical to so many enterprise customers. Consumer end-users, including most iPad and Mac users, are (generally) more flexible.