Earlier this year there was some speculation about whether or not Microsoft would support ARM-based processors in upcoming versions of its operating system. The move would potentially allow for always-on operation in netbooks and a significant boost battery life, all while giving ARM a shot at becoming more relevant in this Intel-dominated market. Sadly for them, however, Microsoft has no such plans for now.
According to Steve Guggenheimer, Microsoft’s corporate vice-president for original equipment manufacturers, Windows 7 will not run on netbooks powered by ARM chips. The decision isn’t too surprising either, given the company’s long-standing partnerships with Intel and AMD. Versions of Windows for ARM processors already exist in the form of Windows Mobile and CE for handhelds and embedded systems. But with netbooks and so-called smartbooks, moving Windows to a whole new architecture may not be such a good idea in the interim.
As Guggenheimer puts it, “if it looks like a PC and acts like a PC, people [will] want the features and benefits of a PC,” but such a move would imply numerous hardware and software compatibility issues to overcome first. Microsoft already has a lot riding on Windows 7 to worry about these issues. That doesn’t mean an ARM port is not feasible, or perhaps already in the works, it just doesn’t make sense at this point in time.
The decision does leave the door open for ARM-based netbooks running Android, Moblin and other non-Windows operating systems to gain some share in this segment. Companies have already shown several such devices at Computex this week; whether or not Microsoft should be worried is another question.