During a press briefing today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Microsoft Windows President Steven Sinofsky revealed some of the company's plans for Windows 8, the next major version of its flagship operating system. One of the most significant revelations is that Microsoft intends to support the energy-efficient ARM architecture alongside x86.
Running on ARM SoC
Windows 8 will be able to run on SoCs made by Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and TI—opening the door for further Windows growth in the increasingly important mobile and embedded space.
The real question is how Microsoft intends to address software portability challenges and bridge the gap between the two architectures for third-party application developers. During the presentation, Microsoft demonstrated its own Office suite running on an ARM SoC, but it's unclear how the port was executed.
The Real Strength
The real strength of Windows, however, is its broad ecosystem of third-party software—much of which is tightly bound to the x86 architecture. Without a path to bring that software to ARM, Microsoft could face an uphill battle making Windows a compelling platform on ARM SoCs.
Microsoft's .NET development framework offers a possible answer to the portability question, because applications built with .NET technology are compiled down to bytecode that is executed by an architecture-neutral runtime environment. It's worth noting, however, that a number of .NET applications still call down into native platform code.