Microsoft has confirmed its plans to support ARM processors, following much speculation that the next release of Windows would be released across ARM as well as the more traditional x86 architectures.
Officially announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas today, the next version of Windows - to be called, you'll be amazed to hear, Windows 8 - will be released for traditional x86 hardware as well as low-power chips based on designs from British CPU giant ARM.
Speaking to the gathered crowd, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky said: "With today’s announcement, we’re showing the flexibility and resiliency of Windows through the power of software and a commitment to world-class engineering. We continue to evolve Windows to deliver the functionality customers demand across the widest variety of hardware platforms and form factors."
The announcement, which formally introduces support for ARM system-on-chip designs to the mainstream Windows platform for the first time, was coupled with a demonstration of a pre-release copy of Windows 8 running on ARM-based processors manufactured by Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments.
The company has confirmed that Windows 8 for ARM will be a fully-fledged desktop and laptop operating system, shipping - much to the European Commission's chagrin, we're sure - with the latest Internet Explorer, printing support, hardware accelerated media playback and web browsing, and full support for a variety of USB-connected devices. Windows CE this ain't.
Warren East, chief executive officer of ARM, was naturally overjoyed at the announcement, stating: "Windows combined with the scalability of the low-power ARM architecture, the market expertise of ARM silicon partners and the extensive SoC talent within the broad ARM ecosystem will enable innovative platforms to realize the future of computing, ultimately creating new market opportunities and delivering compelling products to consumers."
Likewise, Jen-Hsun Huang of Nvidia - a company which holds a licence to produce ARM-based processors, used for its Tegra, Tegra 2, and just-announced Denver system-on-chip platforms, but which does not have an x86 licence - talked up the future of the ARM architecture: "ARM is already the largest and fastest-growing CPU architecture in the world, and today’s major news of Windows will only accelerate its adoption."
It's difficult to argue with Huang: previous attempts to bring ARM to ultra-portable laptops and eco-friendly desktop designs have failed, largely due to a lack of support from Microsoft. With consumers now able to choose Windows-based devices featuring either x86 or ARM hardware, it could be time for Intel, AMD, and especially low-power x86 specialist VIA to panic.
Microsoft's decision to support the ARM architecture makes perfect sense: with increasing numbers of ARM-based tablet devices flooding the market, and manufacturers starting to investigate the architecture for use in many-core servers and low-power laptops and desktops, the lack of Windows support on the platform offered a tantalising leg up for ARM-compatible versions of Linux from companies such as Canonical.
Sadly, although the company's enthusiasm for the next version of Windows was palpable, Microsoft was significantly more recalcitrant when it came to prospective launch dates for Windows 8, but with Windows 7 launched in October 2009 it wouldn't be ridiculous to imagine a Windows 8 launch by the end of the year.