Windows on ARM

Windows on ARM – ultra-mobile PCs by the end of 2017?

There have been rumours floating around the internet that Microsoft is making a big change to its software. No, not that it’ll stop taking telemetry from Windows 10. Nor will it revert back to the bad old days of Windows ME or Vista. What is happening is that Microsoft is fighting a battle against the exponential growth of ARM processors compared to its more traditional x86 based programs. You know what they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. To this end, Microsoft has been building its operating systems so that Windows on ARM is not just a possibility, but a reality.


It’s been predicted that with the way people are changing their usage habits of technology that Android could well overtake Windows as the most used operating system in the world. Research conducted by officially put this into the realm of reality when it reported on 3 April 2017 that Android had indeed overtaken Windows as the most used device on the internet. That’s not to say that Windows is in trouble. But it is a big wake up call, as technology changes along with user needs. Windows still has hundreds of millions of users, and dominates the desktop market both at home, and at work.


Windows on ARM

Microsoft is still working to unify Windows so that it can run anywhere, any time. Image credit: AnandTech


But times are a changing. With ARM based processors becoming ever more capable, Microsoft knows it’s not going to get any better. It’s already retreated so far into its shell with smartphones that Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mobile has about as much market share as Blackberry. Which is to say, not much at all. But Microsoft will keep throwing the dice until it hits the jackpot. The latest scheme is having the full Windows 10 operating system running on ARM based processors. It’ll bypass the problem of having to build a whole new ecosystem of apps from scratch, and it’ll make programming the operating system far easier into the future.


After much talking and not much of seen to be making much progress, apart from a demonstration of Photoshop running on a Snapdragon 820, it seems there’s some interesting happenings on the horizon. The CEO of Qualcomm, Steve Mollenkopf stated in an earnings call last week that: “our Snapdragon 835 is expanding into Mobile PC designs running Windows 10, which are scheduled to launch in the fourth calendar quarter this year.” This means that Microsoft’s vision for a unified software platform for devices of all shapes and sizes is really coming together.


Windows on ARM

Android is now the most used consumer operating system in the world. Image credit: Giant Bomb


Obviously, there are still a lot of questions about just how well Windows on ARM will run. There was precedent with Windows RT based Surface devices, but they were cut off from legacy programs, and that version of the operating system was considered a commercial failure. For that matter, there are other questions of power efficiency and performance of ARM chips when doing other things like full fat Office. Thinking about querying databases and performing complex calculations on Excel on an ARM chip is making me want to my hair out.


Windows on ARM

Microsoft has tried to make things work as well as it can, with features like Continuum. However, consumers haven’t been swayed. Image credit: Windows Central


We can see the way of the future, especially as Android becomes more and more prevalent. Mobile, always connected, yet powerful enough to do everything and anything. Those who cannot afford to buy a PC will definitely opt for a smaller device. And if Microsoft is losing market share in the operating system environment to Android, then it’s losing money to Google. There’s no way that would sit well with Microsoft, and this is the main reason why the company is pursuing this enterprise. If Windows on ARM succeeds, it just make Microsoft’s job in competing on mobile devices that much easier.

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