2010: Microsoft Embraces ARM Micro-Architecture for Major Windows Operating Systems
Since 1997 Microsoft and ARM have worked together on software and devices across the embedded, consumer and mobile spaces, enabling many companies to deliver user experiences on a broad portfolio of ARM-based products. In July, 2010, Microsoft announced that it had licensed ARM architecture and got closer access to ARM's intellectual property (IP), which signaled the beginning of Windows on ARM initiative. At CES 2011 the world's largest software maker confirmed plans to let Windows 8 to run on ARM microprocessors.
Microsoft Windows 8 on ARM will be primarily designed for tablets as well as ultra low-power notebooks or desktops that do not require truly high performance. Applications designed for x86 hardware will not be able to run on ARM-powered system-on-chips, but Microsoft did imply that apps designed for Metro interface of Windows 8/Windows Phone will run on any device on any processor provided that it has appropriate Microsoft operating system on it. Besides, it is very likely to expect Microsoft to design its own software, for example MS Office, compatible with both ARM and x86 systems.
The "WARM" pact between ARM and Microsoft is a clear breakthrough not only for ARM, but also for the whole computing and consumer industries. For over a decade ARM only powered devices with limited capabilities and low power consumption. Thanks to "WARM", ARM breaks through onto feature-rich Windows 8 tablets, notebooks and even low-power desktops that can tolerate limited performance of ARM architecture. Naturally, Microsoft also opens itself doors onto yet untapped markets of consumer electronics, something that Windows XP Media Center Edition failed to do.
The close work with ARM can, perhaps, even lead to emergence of Microsoft's own hardware like smartphones and tablets (just in case Microsoft is willing to compete against its own partners). Besides, a rumour has it that Microsoft's Xbox Next (Xbox Loop) will also contain an SoC with ARM general-purpose cores as well as AMD Radeon HD custom graphics and other things.
Obviously, the WARM pact clearly threatens numerous companies, including hardware makers like AMD or Intel as well as software developers like Apple or Google (or emerging platforms like Tizen). Microsoft does not care about Atom or Athlon, what it cares about are deployments of its own operating systems. With ARM support and proper Windows implementation, it does allow Microsoft to compete on emerging devices' markets and maintain its leadership on the desktop/notebook and server markets.
Going forward, it is logical to expect Microsoft to fully unify kernels of its Windows and Windows Phone operating systems, which is another step towards unified customer experience across a range of devices. In any case, support of ARM by "big" Windows 8 in 2012 clearly disrupts many industries despite of the fact that it was just one big decision.