Ina Fried

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Microsoft talks ARM at CES

As expected, Microsoft on Thursday showed off Windows running on new kinds of processors, specifically those that use an ARM core.

“The next generation of Windows is going to evolve on new hardware,” said Windows unit President Steven Sinofsky.

Before the demo though, Sinofsky traced the history of Windows, noting that from 1992 through Windows Vista the system requirements increased significantly from one version to the next. With Windows 7, though, Microsoft held most technical requirements steady and even lowered some of them.

As for the demo of the new stuff, Sinofsky began with a few caveats.

“We are calling this a technology demonstration,” he said, cautioning it wouldn’t show any new user face stuff or address pricing, timing, etc.

Sinofsky said it is too soon to talk about what requirements will be for the next version of Windows, but said the company is keenly aware of the need to have Windows running on ever-smaller devices.

Update 1:25 pm Microsoft has three demos and it is saving Windows on ARM for last. It’s starting by hoeing off some new PCs running on the current version of Windows–Windows 7.

The second demo will be an update of touch input on Microsoft’s tabletop Surface computer, and the final one will show Windows running on ARM.

1:33 pm The next-generation Surface is thinner and uses infrared cameras inside the screen’s pixels instead of a big projector, allowing for devices that can be either a tabletop or mounted vertically. It will be cheaper as well, though Microsoft doesn’t say how much the machines will cost. First-generation Surface machines had a price tag in the thousands of dollars.

On to the chip demos.

Microsoft starts by showing a development board using a next-generation Intel design running Quicken.

Okay, nod to Intel complete.

Next up is Office running on an ARM chip. This demo is on Microsoft Word and has it printing to an Epson printer. Microsoft shows demos of chips from Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments.

On the Nvidia machine, Microsoft shows hardware, accelerated browsing in IE9 running on a Tegra 2 processor, as well as running PowerPoint and an “Iron Man” movie preview.

1:48 pm Asked by Mobilized what work still needs to take place to make Windows on ARM a reality, Sinofsky says that it is the case that programs compiled for x86 processors won’t immediately run on ARM chips, but said the company isn’t ready to talk about the programming model. He does say it is unlikely Microsoft would use virtualization to make old programs, suggesting there will be some work for developers.

Sinfosky says that Microsoft has done the work to enable Windows to run and create a framework for third parties to build software and device drivers.

As for the timing, Sinofsky doesn’t give a date, but does reiterate that Microsoft these days aims to have a new release of Windows every 24 months to 36 months. “I don’t think it’s that long away,” he says. He notes some people want Windows releases faster while other large customers would rather have more time between releases. “Somewhere [around] 24 to 36 months between releases seems about right.”

The ARM compatibility will go into the next release of Windows, but Sinofsky takes time to point out to Mobilized that once again, he isn’t calling it Windows 8.

“This is the next generation of Windows,” he says.

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