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Microsoft Charts Long-Term Mobile Strategy With ARM Deal

Microsoft has licensed the architecture for ARM Holdings' mobile microprocessor platform, but the move does not appear likely to have an impact on devices in the near-term pipeline.

ARM, whose processors are widely used in mobile devices, notably Apple's iPhone and iPad, said Microsoft is the first software vendor to say it is taking on an architectural license. The move lets Microsoft customize ARM's family of mobile microprocessors rather than just work off the implementation guidelines.

Microsoft and ARM, which have had licensing agreements since 1997, announced the architectural license on Friday, July 23. The companies are sharing few details other than to suggest that Microsoft will build a larger number of devices using its Windows Embedded and its forthcoming Windows Phone 7 platforms.

"With closer access to the ARM technology we will be able to enhance our research and development activities for ARM-based products," said K.D. Hallman, general manager for Microsoft's strategic software/silicon architectures team, in a statement. A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company is not elaborating on the announcement but reports have speculated that the ARM platform could be key to partners building smartphones and slate PCs that would compete with Apple's iPad.

Hardware vendors Infineon Technologies, Marvell Technology Group and Qualcomm have licensed the ARM architecture, but Microsoft is the first software company to announce such a relationship, according to Antonio Viana, ARM executive board member. Infineon's deal is specifically for security-based devices.

"There are very few architectural licenses," Viana said in an interview. "This gives Microsoft the ability to create custom implementations on the ARM architecture." Viana declined to speculate how Microsoft might customize the architecture, but he did suggest that it is unlikely it would result in near-term deliverables.

"Creating your implementations and then creating SOC's [system on chips] based on those implementations, that's not something that happens overnight. That requires a great deal of investment and a great deal of effort," he said. "There's a fair deal of work involved."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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