Microsoft Getting ARM Friendly, So What Does that Mean for Tablets?

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It looks like Microsoft will be branching out beyond its typical relationship with Intel and Advanced Micro Devices some time down the road, as a version of Windows that is compatible with ARM processors will supposedly be developed in the near future.

Microsoft is expected to make an official announcement about its new version of Windows before Steve Ballmer’s keynote at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, coinciding with TabletPCReview’s prediction that the big news coming out of CES this year would be about Windows, not Android.Windows Logo

The news doesn’t exactly come as much of a surprise, as there has been much speculation about Windows making the transition to ARM-processors since the two companies signed an expanded licensing agreement back in July. Nevertheless, this spells good news for Microsoft, as moving Windows to ARM-based machines would give Microsoft the opportunity to compete with other companies that have a presence in low-power devices like tablets and smartphones, which typically have longer battery life thanks to the energy-efficient ARM processor.

Not everyone agrees on what type of Windows will be seeing an upgrade, however. Mary-Jo Foley of ZDNet, for instance, is predicting that it will not necessarily be a new version of the standard Windows that Microsoft will be announcing, but rather a new version of Windows Embedded Compact (Windows CE), which is already compatible with ARM in its current form. In fact, Microsoft is due to release Windows Embedded Compact 7 version for manufacturing in Q1 2011.  

Should this turn out to be the case, mainstream consumers may not get their hands on it, as it would most likely end up being used in business scenarios, like on tablets in warehouses.

Regardless, the announcement would be coming well in advance of any such products being made available, as hardware developers first need to make drivers that are compatible with ARM processors. Jumps like this tend to take time due to hardware driver development, like when Microsoft took years to move Windows users from a 32-bit version of the operating system to the 64-bit version, as All Things Digital’s Ina Fried pointed out. Microsoft may be making the announcement on January 5, but the efforts would not come to fruition until about 2 years from now, as inside sources have claimed.

Intel LogoGiven how long this process could take, it’s likely that this new version of Windows could end up as a version of Windows 8, as suggested by the Wall Street Journal and Desktop Review’s J.R. Nelson.

It is worth noting, however, that Intel isn’t about to be left out in the cold, as it recently announced that Intel chips would be appearing in 35 different tablets in 2011. This isn’t the first time that Microsoft and Intel have worked outside of PCs with other companies, either; Intel has worked with Google to support their Android OS in tablets, and also worked in conjunction with Nokia to develop software called Meego.

For all the latest updates about desktops, notebooks, smartphones, digital cameras, tablets, and printers at CES 2011, check out the TechnologyGuide CES news page.

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