Microsoft: No Windows 7 for ARM-based netbooks (for now)

Microsoft: No Windows 7 for ARM-based netbooks (for now)

Summary: Microsoft is not going to make Windows 7 available for ARM-based netbooks and PCs, company officials said at this week's Computex trade show. But Microsoft still isn't saying it never will deliver a port of Windows to ARM.


Microsoft is not going to make Windows 7 available for ARM-based netbooks and PCs, company officials said at this week's Computex trade show.

The decision isn't too surprising, given Microsoft's long-standing partnerships with Intel and AMD. Earlier this year, however, officials with the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) hinted that the group was moving to ARM and that Microsoft was considering seriously a port of Windows to the ARM processor.

On June 3, a company spokesperson confirmed there will be no Windows 7 for ARM -- at least for now. Microsoft's official statement:

"At this time, Windows 7 does not support any ARM architecture. Currently, Windows works on both x86 and x64 platforms, which, thanks to the pervasive PC hardware standard, power the vast majority of the world's laptops and desktops. In the specialized devices space, where ARM is well suited, we offer the Windows Embedded CE platform."

Note that Microsoft officials did not say the company would never release a version of Windows that would run on ARM. This week's statement only says Windows 7 isn't currently available for it. So maybe Microsoft wasn't able to finish its rumored port of Windows 7 to ARM in time for delivery this year but it's still on the drawing board ... or maybe we'll see Windows 8 running on ARM.

Microsoft's decision does mean that the company is leaving the ARM netbook door wide open for Linux, Android and other non-Windows operating systems. At Computex, PC makers showed off five or six new ARM netbooks that are expected to run the Google Android operating system.

Microsoft officials are downplaying the potential impact of Android, Moblin and other Linux variants on netbooks, claiming that the dearth of compatible software will be a limiting factor for these platforms. It's not surprising, given Microsoft's love/hate relationship with "small laptops," as company officials prefer to call netbooks, that Microsoft officials don't address the potential appeal of netbooks to users who prefer Web-based services/applications....

Microsoft also officials confirmed at Computex that the company and its PC partners are going to launch, as expected, an upgrade program, via which customers buying new Vista PCs will get a free upgrade to Windows 7 once it is available. Microsoft still won't say when the program will kick off, but is positioning the program as its stop-gap measure for addressing this year's back-to-school PC market. However, the enthusiast site TechARP says the date the upgrade program will launch is now June 26, meaning users who buy new Vista PCs between June 26 and late October will qualify for a free copy of Windows 7 after it becomes generally available on October 22.

What's your guess about what's going on with Microsoft and ARM? Do you still think there will be a port of Windows 7 to ARM (but maybe not until 2010)? Or do you think the Softies are going to stick with Intel and AMD, even if the ARM netbook market gets hot?

Topics: Processors, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, 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).

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  • Technically speaking - there IS a Windows for ARM

    Windows Embedded Compact (aka WinCE) is a subset of the full Windows API with all the old legacy API removed and Unicode-only calls.

    It's definitely not the full Windows API, but a lot of stuff is basically the same on both platforms.

    It wouldn't be that hard for MSFT to bring the rest of it over - but that would mean killing off WinCE and WiMo as we know it now and replacing it with a full featured OS that would take more space but offer a much richer experience...

    Oh wait..

    That's exactly what they need to do. :)
    • Lets flip the script ...

      ... what about apps?

    • WinCE is a nice blend of speed and functionality...

      of which some 3rd parties still figured out how to make better UI add-ons (WisBar 3, TouchFlo 3D, et al...)

      But it's compact and straightforward. Though a tad bloaty (a tad less the size of Win95, and WinCE was originally a whittled down Win95...)

      A full-fledged Windows OS on an ARM device? Risky.

      Especially with Zune, which is a whittled down Windows Mobile OS...

      It'd be nice if MS shaved off some system requirements, which in turn improves performance and battery life... but this is MS; their history speaks for itself. (I currently dislike the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, et al, as they - for all their features - feel inferior. Trouble is, they're growing faster and MS is using the same old routine for their mobile platform - they have got to stop bloating things up.)
      • No

        WinCE was NOT based on Win95. It is an entirely different OS architecture than Windows 9x / NT and was built for entirely different markets.

        Further: Not sure how you can call WinCE "bloaty" - you can build a WinCE OS image that consumes < 4MB RAM and < 8MB storage overall!

        WinCE is extremely customizable. If you want to build a device running CE, you pick and choose which OS components you want included in your OS. Don't need a display or networking stack? Omit them. Want SVGA + your own wireless stack? You got it.

        Zune, in fact, runs on top of it's own customized WinCE OS image. As do all Windows Mobile phones, PPC's, etc.

        Reality is, though, that WinCE is better suited to highly constrained, very specific embedded device scenarios.

        What MS needs now is to essentially port the Windows OS (not WinCE) down to today's portable devices. Don't forget that MS REALLY went to town cleaning up Windows during Win7 and have made MASSIVE strides in terms of cleanly componentizing the OS infrastructure and removing MANY of the issues that previously impeded its ability to run on smaller devices.
    • It's not desktop/laptop/netbook Windows

      Even if MS releases Windows for ARM, it's not going to be code compatible with desktop/
      laptop/netbook Windows. The ARM instruction
      set is different from the x86 instruction set.

      That means you can't take your x86 programs
      and run them on the Windows for ARM, unless
      MS runs an emulator or software translation
      layer like Apple did during Apple's transition
      from PowerPC to Intel CPUs.

      The ability to run x86 binaries in Windows for
      ARM is so critical, I would consider any MS
      ARM OS to be crippled, technically and sales-
      wise, without it.
      • Not entirely accurate

        Yes, ARM is an entirely different ISA (Instruction Set Architecture) than x86/x64.

        However, how many apps do you suppose these days contain ANY assembler? Practically none. The few apps that DO contain assembler should be updated to use compiler intrinsics that make the code non-CPU specific.

        The other major issue for porting apps is usually byte ordering. Unlike most CPU's, ARM cores can be prgramatically configured to be little or big endian!! Therefore, all MS has to do is spruce up their ARM C/C++ compiler, update their ARM JIT compiler and recompile their code.

        Anyone else who wants their apps to run on Windows on ARM would just need to recompile (& test) their apps. Frankly, it should be a no-brainer for most OEM's.

        Remember - MS did a TON of work in Win7 to eliminate/isolate the already miniscule amount of Assembler from the OS sources. They have to make some architectural changes to support ARM's memory management etc., but once that is done, there's little to stop them completing their port to ARM, and VERY little to stop OEM's from porting their apps to support ARM too.
  • Windows Mobile runs on ARM

    Hi. Yes, I do realize that Windows Mobile and its embedded platform underpinnings run on ARM. But plain-old Windows doesn't, at least not officially. I wrote a related blog post earlier this year where I wondered whether Microsoft might actually try to create a single Windows platform that could run on ARM devices and PCs:

    Mary Jo Foley
    • And that's the point.

      ARM will be intended for much lesser form factor PCs than what can be achieved with today's Intel or AMD chips. Also this will bring in more vendor specificness into the whole range of devices. More precisely those devices 'may' not fall into netbook or small cheap notebook range but will be devices specific to the vendor with customized functionalities. This range, if at all successful will position in between the smart phone/PDA and today's netbooks/small cheap notebook.

      Windows Embedded CE with custom GUI will be a perfect choice for those vendors. I think it will be more appealing to the h/w vendors that any other OS because of the support and the licensing schemes it has.
      • You're forgetting the reason that Windows netbooks sell ...

        ... they run Windows and they run customers' existing apps.

        Yes, there will be vendor specifics. But you think that the Windows Desktop/Laptop OS ecosystem doesn't already have to deal with this???

        There are far more Windows device driver writers than WinCE device driver writers, so porting Windows to ARM will actually be easier in many ways that having to learn WinCE.

        Windows CE is NOT the right OS for general purpose, highly mobile computing because it doesn't seamlessly run most existing apps.

        On the other hand, if MS ported Windows to ARM and shipped an ARM compiler in Visual Studio / Windows SDK, then most ISV's would just need to recompile their apps in order to run on Windows/ARM.
    • Windows Mobile ain't Windows

      It has a different kernel, a different API, and it works differently; it's actually a different OS.

      On the other hand, Linux code between ARM and x86 is pretty much the same, and C/C++ code written for x86 won't need much (if at all) modification to run on ARM - you can thus run the same application version (not the same binary, though) on x86 or ARM.

      A test was done recently to compile OpenOffice for ARM: it seems to work.

      Now, the NT kernel isn't inherently linked to x86: there used to be an NT4 build for Alpha, and Windows XP reached beta level for Itanium.

      However, the rest of the OS ecosystem may not run that easily (Microsoft Office, for example, is notoriously impossible to port outside of x86, as the different code bases between Windows and Mac ports indicate.

      There's one last hurdle: you can run a complete Linux desktop on 256 Mb of RAM from a 1 Gb install (including applications; source, Ubuntu Netbook Remix image size), while the smallest Win7 install, which includes no applications, requires 6 Gb and 512 Mb of RAM.
      Mitch 74
      • Office for Windows and Mac differ because ...

        ... they run on different OS', not because they run on different CPU architectures.

        Specifically, MacOS' lack of COM/OLE technology means that Office for Mac has to be constructed entirely differently to Office for Windows.

        However, note that Office14 is (finally) going to be available in pure x64 versions as well as x86. To have accomplished this, Office had to scrub every line of source and make sure it was free of assembler and any other ISA specific dependencies.

        Therefore, recompiling Office14+ to Windows/ARM will be not only possible, but also relatively easy.

        Regarding RAM: Ignore it - it's a red herring. RAM prices are dropping through the floor so it costs < $20 for 2GB laptop memory. In which case, who wants a machine with so little memory that your netbook will always be struggling for resources every time you load up an app that needs some room (browsing, movies, games, etc)?
    • They should have listened to you

      [i]I wondered whether Microsoft might actually try to create a single Windows platform that could run on ARM devices and PCs:[/i]

      That would have been a brilliant move on their part. A consistent application and user experience from the high end of the hardware spectrum to the lowest.

      Assuming MSFT could have cleared the technical hurdles...that's a safe assumption...then why didn't they do it? The cynical side of me suggests they were, once again, pandering to their hardware OEM's due to the lower margin on appliance type devices.

      If MSFT cedes that entire spectrum of the market or tries to peddle Windows Mobile, which rots in my opinion, they're making yet another massive strategic blunder on the order of Vista. How many of those do they have left? MS tends to paper their mistakes with money but the days of endless profit margins may be drying up.
  • What this means . . .

    All this really means is that ARM is pretty much going to stay where it's always been - with specialized platforms. I doubt it will become popular in netbooks.
    • They said that about netbooks themselves...

      MS will release an ARM version just like they extended XP's life and refactored Vista into 7 to work on netbooks when they saw that Linux was about to make quick inroads. Now the question is will they be fast enough to keep Google from blowing the door wide open with Android. While normal Linux distros have to overcome the familiarity hurdle Google has started building an army of familiar users from the smartphone side. People will see these netbooks and say it looks like those smartphones...I'll give it a try.
      • So?

        "They said that about netbooks themselves..."

        Because "they" (the tech publications) are out of touch with the real world.

        No real world people care if it's an Atom or an ARM. They just care if it'll run Windows.

        "Now the question is will they be fast enough to keep Google from blowing the door wide open with Android"

        Android isn't going to blow any doors wide open. It'll stay on cell phones.

        "Google has started building an army of familiar users from the smartphone side."

        No, Apple has. Google is just dreaming.

        "People will see these netbooks and say it looks like those smartphones...I'll give it a try."

        They might also associate phones with being more limited, with PCs (Windows) being able to do more. If Windows stays on netbooks, nobody is going to care that companies are selling netbooks that act like glorified cell phones.
        • The don't care if it runs Windows....

          ...they just care how much it costs. As it stands the ARM based netbooks may cost substantially less.

          No Apple built an army of cellphone users. Google is building one. If you think the OEM's that are releasing those 18-20 Android based phones this year alone are dreaming then YOU are dreaming.

          To the contrary Verizon users seem to like that a netbook is a glorified cellphone. They won't care when its no longer Windows...and it will be. The cell carriers will jump at the chance to sell the same product at the same price that they are now without having to subsidize it. Goodnight Windows.
          • Goodnight Windows??? Try again...only with feeling...

            You are absolutly out of your mind if you think Windows is even on the road that heads the way out, so to speak.

            Start with reality. MS does not simply work on a few basic pieces of software, like their flagship OS and Office suite, along with cooking up patches for XP. MS is always going to have people who are looking at what might be the next big thing and looking into how they might become part of it.

            Agreed, sometimes MS is a day late and a dollar short when getting into the game, and it cost them, like the Zune, a great device that is stuck wishing it could catch up. But by the same token MS has had some considerable successes such as the X-Box and some have yet to be shown if there will be any long term success like search. But the real issue is, when it comes to MS letting someone get such a jump on them in any area that counts, as far as their long term viability goes; FORGET IT.

            Anyone with a brain can see what the reaction is at MS when they even see so much as a meager blip on the radar that might pose a genuine threat to their position. Witness the wildly quick turnover from Vista to Windows 7.

            Anyone who uses Vista regularly, who doesn't have an existing preference for a non Windows OS will tell you that in the end, there is nothing really wrong with Vista, it works fine and is secure and does exactly what its supposed to do. But! Even though the other two OS's (which we all know and hence need not be named)only wish they had the market share Vista has, MS has detected that Vista has not quite meet their expectations in sales (blame that on XP's still venerable workability more then anything)and as such they have seen that tiny threatening blip on the radar and have reacted, with what some would call lightning speed compared to Vistas long awaited release, and hammed out Windows 7 to an overwhelming round of applause.

            Just because MS is actually a business, and makes decisions based on what they expect will be profitable, don't think that means they cannot save themselves from some obvious impending catastrophe. In Microsoft's relatively short history we have clearly seen at least two common approaches to exploiting the marketplace.

            First, they look at whats new, whats coming up and see if there is a reasonable way to get into that new market, but don't blow the bank in a rush to create some perfect product for that new market because even some new perfect products fail to win the day sometimes, and if the bank was blown to create it and it doesn't sell enough, then its down the tubes for the whole works. Unfortunately that leads to some hit and miss like the X-Box and Zune.

            Secondly, keep an ever watchful eye on the very bread and butter that created the company and drove it to the market place; the core software sales such as Windows and Office. Keep all eyes pealed for that tiny blip on the radar, and if that so much as raises its head, pull out all stops and correct the course at all costs and recapture the moment so to speak. Never ever let that blip go unanswered. That has been shown again and again with MS. Recall the Windows ME to XP transition? MS will watch for every and any threat towards their bread and butter in the marketplace and you can count 100% that each and every blip on that radar screen is scrutinized with far more care, attention and rapid heavy handed response then their silly farting around with mp3 players and video game consoles.

            Saying that MS is just going to sit around and watch Google/Android slowly but surely take over the OS market over a period of years without being able to notice or do anything about it is like saying a hunter is going to sit in his log cabin and listen while an 800 pound grizzly bear makes it quite apparent he is gradually chewing through the front door, and the hunter never bothers to load up his nitro express elephant gun and blow its head off although he has plenty of ammunition and thats what he has always done in the past.

            Its possible in some wild or unusual circumstance but so unlikely its silly to speculate its what will happen without being able to explain the reasons why. And currently, there is no reason why.
          • Sure they do

            Sure they care. You think Microsoft is holding onto their position by sheer luck?

            No way. They're holding onto their position people people [b]do care[/b] about Windows, because Windows runs the applications they are familiar with.

            "No Apple built an army of cellphone users."

            Netbooks aren't cell phones, and people don't see them as cell phones. Doesn't matter. Yes, you are still dreaming.

            "To the contrary Verizon users seem to like that a netbook is a glorified cellphone."

            Bull. You're still dreaming. It's a PC, plain and simple. People are not pretending they are cell phones.
          • Nonsense

            "they just care how much it costs"

            This is just plain not true. Before Windows netbooks arrived, Linux netbooks owned 100% of the market. When netbooks running they just care how much it costs arrived, Linux lost 95% of its market in < 12 months.

            This proves that customers are more than willing to pay a 10% ($30-$40) premium for a netbook that runs Windows and therefore runs all their existing apps and looks, feels and works just like they're used to.
  • Windows will probably never run on ARM....

    What would be the point? it's not like any applications would run on an ARM based Windows, well certainly legacy apps wouldn't.

    It makes a whole lot more sense to focus on WinMo 7 and carry forward the millions of WinMo applications.