Microsoft's next Windows version will support System on a Chip on ARM, executives announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS-Microsoft used a Jan. 5 press conference at the Consumer
Electronics Show here to announce that the next version of Windows will support
System on a Chip (SoC) architecture, in particular ARM-based
systems from partners such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments.
In addition, the company used the event to reveal Windows 7 running on a
handful of new ultra-light devices-including an Acer laptop with dual
and the next version of its Surface
ARM chip designs currently dominate much
of the burgeoning mobile market, which Microsoft is anxious to penetrate.
Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows and Windows Live Division, suggested
soon after taking the stage that tablets, mobile devices and traditional PCs
were rapidly converging in terms of their hardware requirements and
capabilities. Windows currently dominates the x86 platform used by traditional
PCs, but the rise of powerful mobile devices such as smartphones and
tablets-powered largely by ARM chip
designs-has effectively created a new market for the operating system, provided
it can work out the engineering details.
"Under the hood there are a ton of differences that need to be worked
through," Sinofsky told the audience. "Windows has proven remarkably
flexible at this under-the-hood sort of stuff."
Microsoft executives used part of the conference to demonstrate that ARM
could power Windows with little slowdown. "New version of Internet Explorer
running ARM, hardware accelerated,"
Michael Angiulo, a corporate vice president for Microsoft, said as he
demonstrated applications on a laptop with an Nvidia Tegra chip. "Iron Man
trailer in high definition, running natively on an ARM
Sinofsky and company also demonstrated a new line of laptops running Windows
7, including an Acer laptop with a second touch-screen in place of a keyboard,
in order to emphasize how Intel and AMD are
still working with the company to develop battery-efficient platforms that take
advantage of evolving technologies such as touch. Intel and AMD
are both continuing to develop SoC architectures offering better battery life
and lower heat.
"We're very slate-focused this week," Sinofsky said, "but we
want smaller and cooler on all our form factors."
Executives also demonstrated a new version of Surface, the company's
table-sized touch-screen tablets. This new version runs Windows 7 and is
fronted with Gorilla glass.
However, ARM remained the primary focus
of the conference. When questioned about whether current Windows applications
would run on the new ARM-enabled version of
the operating system, Sinofsky explained that "x86 programs don't run on the
ARM architecture, and it's not likely that
there'll be virtualization." Without getting into further detail, he
added: "We'll have a lot more to say about developers and opportunities
down the road. Whenever Windows works on new hardware, our job is to allow the
flexibility and choice of that new hardware to shine through."
Sinofsky offered no firm release date for the new ARM-based
While Microsoft's flagship products-including Windows 7 and the Office
franchise-continue to buoy the company's revenues, it has been struggling to
catch up with rivals such as Apple and Google in the tablet PC and smartphone
arenas. The recently released Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft's attempt to reverse
its eroding market share in the latter, but heading into CES it had yet to
offer a substantial consumer-tablet effort.
Over the previous few months, Microsoft executives have suggested that their
tablet play in 2011 would rely on a new generation of Intel microprocessors
designed for mobile devices. With the AMD
announcement, the possibility exists for future generations of Windows tablets
running both Intel and ARM chips.