At a press conference held in Las Vegas in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011 Microsoft have just announced that the next version of Windows will support ‘System on a Chip’ (Soc) architectures from Intel, AMD, and ARM. The big news as was leaked in recent weeks is that a full version of Windows will run on non-Intel x86 chips.

Previously the relationship and successes of Microsoft Windows and Intel have been very closely tied – and hence the term ‘Wintel’ was coined. Today’s announcement is a huge for the relationship between Microsoft and ARM since the ARM architecture has previously only been supported by Windows CE based systems such as Windows Phone.

Many will remember that Windows has in the past run on other hardware – Windows NT ran on the DEC Alpha platform and in recent years on the Itanium. What is coming is different though – those were expensive platforms and never gained a large slice of Windows sales. System on a Chip technology will actually make Windows computers (PCs, Laptops, Slates/Tablets, etc) less expensive to manufacture and will help decrease the size and power requirements of new systems. And for portable and mobile computing longer battery life makes

The big questions now are:

  • How long will it take Microsoft to get Windows 8 out the door?
  • Will application vendors jump on board quickly with ARM versions of their apps? (Including Microsoft)
  • How about printer and device makers – will they release ARM drivers quickly?
  • What else will Microsoft do to make Windows suitable for Tablet computers?

Microsoft have already demonstrated Windows 8 running on the ARM hardware – along with Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer 9, and printing to an Epson printer. However availability of all the major apps on this hardware could mean you won’t be able to stop buying x86 based PC as soon as Windows 8 becomes available.