Microsoft is gearing up to unveil a forthcoming version of Windows that runs on both ARM and x86 processors at the Consumer Electronics Show next month, according to published reports.
The software is designed for battery powered devices like smartphones and tablets, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, quoting people familiar with Microsoft's plans.
However, according to the The Wall Street Journal, the new version of Windows won't be ready for at least two years, which also happens to be around the time Microsoft is expected to release Windows 8.
A Microsoft spokesperson reached via email declined to comment on the report. "We do not have any information to share at this time," the spokesperson said.
If Microsoft licenses ARM’s designs in order to build its own system-on-a-chip (SoC) components, this could pave the way for Microsoft to build its own tablet. That's a scenario Andrew Brust, founder of Blue Badge Insights, a New York City-based firm that provides strategy and advisory services for Microsoft customers and partners, would like to see play out.
"Microsoft could have full control of the experience this way, and I think that’s important to countering Apple and beating Android in the tablet market," Brust said.
Brust would still like to see Microsoft adapt a variant of the Windows Phone 7 operating system for tablets, but he believes the SoC approach could help Microsoft establish a lasting foothold in the tablet space.
"A Microsoft-designed tablet environment, sitting atop standard Windows 7, could be workable if the Microsoft tablet platform were dominated by Microsoft-proprietary hardware running this environment across all devices," Brust said.
But Chris De Herrera, a Los Angeles-based Windows Mobile MVP and editor of the Pocket PC FAQ blog, sees a number of potential hurdles for Microsoft in developing an ARM-tailored version of Windows. For example, the ARM-compatible Windows would need different user interface elements to address touch and smaller screen sizes, and applications for the x86 Windows would not run without emulation, which adds significant overhead, De Herrera said.
ARM's chip reference designs dominate the market for mobile devices: Apple's A4 processor, the system-on-a-chip (SoC) that powers the iPad and iPhone 4, is built on ARM architecture. Android smartphones from Samsung, Texas Instruments, and Qualcomm also use ARM's chip designs.
Microsoft finds itself trailing far behind the mobile market leaders. Although Microsoft says its OEM partners have sold 1.5 million Windows Phone 7 devices in the six weeks since its launch, Microsoft still doesn't have much of a tablet strategy. Its move to support ARM could be a sign of a strategic shift, and a sign of its growing concern with the momentum the iPad has generated.