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Next-Gen Windows Will Support SoCs, ARM Chips

Microsoft announced today that it is integrating its next-generation Windows client operating system on system-on-a-chip (SoC) hardware and will use the architecture developed by Cambridge, UK-based ARM Holdings.

The SoC deals, announced prior to Microsoft's keynote address tonight at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, are wholly associated with what Microsoft describes as its "next version of Windows." Most people think that new client OS will be called "Windows 8," although Microsoft refused to describe it.

As part of this effort, Microsoft is working with chip-making partners leveraging the ARM architecture. Those partners include Nvidia Corp. Qualcomm Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc., according to Microsoft's announcement. The announcement was quick to add that Microsoft is not neglecting its long-established x86 hardware partners, such as Intel Corp. and AMD Inc., which also are planning SoCs running the next-generation Windows OS. 

Intel and AMD are both working on "new low-power systems," although they apparently will not be rolled out at the CES event. Instead, Intel is showcasing its 2nd Generation Intel Core processor family. AMD will talk about its Fusion accelerated processing units at CES.

The next-generation Windows integration with ARM SoC architecture constitutes a new milestone for Microsoft, at least on the client side of the Windows OS family of products. The company has long worked with ARM Holdings based on Windows Embedded products.

ARM-based processors are notable for their low-power consumption, something that has become increasingly important as computer users move from using desktops to various portable devices. It's a trend that conceivably could diminish the use and status of Windows should consumers move more toward using mobile devices running Apple's iOS, Google's Android or even the emerging Google Chrome OS, among many other options. Microsoft is trailing other OS makers on its consumer mobile strategy, although it successfully wrested the netbook market from initial predominant Linux use after a brief challenge. Microsoft also redesigned its Windows Mobile OS for consumer phones with the release of its Windows Phone 7 Series late last year.

Microsoft will be demonstrating its next version of Windows at the CES event. In addition, Microsoft Office will be shown running on an ARM-based computer, according to a released statement. Also, "the latest Internet Explorer" (presumably IE 9) will be shown using the ARM platform.

Details about Microsoft's next-generation Windows client weren't announced. However, Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, mentioned in a released statement that Microsoft was continuing a trend, started by Windows 7, of reducing system resources with the new OS.

Windows-based tablets are expected to be a center-stage focus at CES as Steve Ballmer delivers the keynote address tonight. They'll appear based on Windows 7 -- well before Microsoft rolls out its next-generation Windows operating system, according to Al Hilwa, IDC's program director for applications development software.

"I would expect a move by Microsoft into the tablet space before the next version of Windows, which is easily a year or two out," Hilwa explained in an e-mail correspondence. "I have no doubt that Microsoft understands the stakes in the media tablet wars and how they may evolve to affect the PC in the medium to long term. Running Windows in the future on ARM is a response to this, but they do need a short-term solution."

Hilwa suggested that Windows 7-based tablets "may attract a lot of traditional PC users."

"Having the full capability of a PC is an extra bonus that Android devices and the iPad do not have," Hilwa stated. "Microsoft has to try this approach as it evolves the PC in the long run to embrace a more specialized media consumption device as an alternative form factor."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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