Report: An ARM version of Windows is in the works


— 6:00 AM on December 22, 2010

Right now, Microsoft is making no excuses about shoving Windows 7 into the tablet market. In a couple of years, though, we may see a fresh version of Windows tailored for the very ARM-powered slates Microsoft is trying to beat right now. So suggest separate reports by the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, both of which quote anonymous sources "familiar" with the software giant's plans.

Based on those reports, Microsoft will announce the upcoming, ARM-compatible operating system at the Consumer Electronics Show early next month. The final product "isn't expected to be available for two years," the WSJ adds. By then, it's anyone's guess what kind of touch-friendly operating systems will be lurking on next-generation tablets—or how much market share Intel's next-gen Atom chips will have managed to snatch away from ARM.

Speaking of Intel, the WSJ suggests that Microsoft's mystery OS will support both ARM processors and x86 chips from Intel and AMD. Word is that the addition of ARM compatibility is "part of a broader push at Microsoft to make Windows more 'modular' so that pieces of the operating system that are unnecessary for smaller, low-power devices . . . can be easily stripped away."

I expect the real challenge for Microsoft here may be software compatibility. Windows' main selling point is its support for a wealth of software compiled exclusively for x86 processors. An ARM-compatible release would compromise that, unless Microsoft could persuade a majority of software developers to release "fat" binaries with both ARM and Intel support. But even then, different user interfaces would presumably be required for desktop and tablet versions of the same apps.

   
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