Ina Fried

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Windows on ARM Is No Knee-Jerk Move

When word first broke last month that Microsoft was planning to port Windows over to ARM-based chips, it seemed like it might be just a hasty reaction to the success of the iPad.

However, the move has been in the works for some time, according to a source familiar with Microsoft’s development plans. Indeed, the source said that ARM support has been part of the company’s earliest planning for the next version of Windows, a process that kicked off before Windows 7 hit store shelves in October 2009.

Microsoft’s effort is far enough along to show a number of key programs running on ARM-based chips, something the company is expected to do at a 1 pm PT press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Despite that progress, though, it will be some time before the release of Windows 8, or whatever Microsoft will call the next version of the operating system, and Microsoft isn’t expected to commit to a date (or a name) here at the show. There’s still a lot of compatibility work that must be done, not only by Microsoft but by the people that create the hardware and software that runs on top of Windows.

Speculation that Microsoft might be headed in this direction has grown, heightened by the competition Windows faces from Apple and Android-based devices, as well as the fact that Microsoft and ARM signed an expanded licensing agreement last year that appeared to signal a closer relationship, though both sides were deliberately circumspect about the deal.

In focusing its energy on Windows, rather than on its Windows Phone operating system, Microsoft is taking a different tactic than either Google or Apple, both of which are betting that a new class of highly mobile devices needs a new operating system built from the ground up.

By contrast, Microsoft is wagering that users want and need all of the power that comes with Windows and would buy a Windows machine, if only it could better compete on issues such as battery life, where Windows today suffers by comparison. Adding the new processors will allow Windows to better fit into a wider range of devices, including slates and other highly mobile devices, Microsoft is likely to say.

And while it is eager to welcome Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments into the camp of Windows processor partners, expect Microsoft to put in a good word or two for its traditional chip buddies, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which it is counting on both now and in the future, to provide plenty of chips for Windows-based machines.

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