CES: The long and winding road to Windows on ARM

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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....

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