ARM has announced that Microsoft has “signed a new licensing agreement for the ARM architecture” which is widely used in mobile phones and other portable devices. These include Microsoft’s Zune media player and smartphones running Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7.
An ARM spokesman said: “The companies have worked together since 1997 on software and devices across the embedded, consumer and mobile markets, and Microsoft delivers many operating systems on the ARM architecture (eg Windows Embedded and Windows Phone).”
Starting in the late 1990s, ARM chips were used in most Pocket PC handhelds such as the Compaq iPaq and Dell Axim, and in what Microsoft called “Web companions” -- lightweight instant-on cloud computing netbooks and tablets -- running Windows CE.
The press release quotes KD Hallman, a general manager at Microsoft, saying: “With closer access to the ARM technology we will be able to enhance our research and development activities for ARM-based products.”
It’s not clear whether Microsoft will actually design an ARM “system on a chip” to compete with popular ARM-based devices such as Nvidia’s Tegra (used in the Zune HD) and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon. However, it now has the option.
Intel used to develop ARM-based processors, which it sold under the XScale name. These were derived from the DEC StrongArm line, with Digital’s team moving to Intel after the company was acquired by Compaq. However, Intel eventually decided to develop its own line of low-power processors, the Atom range, which is compatible with its x86 range and can therefore run Windows XP etc. It sold off the XScale business to Marvell for “$600 million plus the assumption by Marvell of certain liabilities”. (See my interview with Intel’s Sean Maloney: Intel drives into ARMy territory.)
Intel might not be pleased to hear that Microsoft appears to be increasing its involvement with ARM, though this probably won’t go as far as porting Windows 7. However, Intel can hardly complain, because it has invested very large sums in developing and supporting Linux in direct competition with Microsoft Windows, and has also been working very closely with another company with an ARM licence: Apple.