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Windows 7 on ARM a possibility?

Windows 7 on ARM a possibility?

The final release of Windows 7 could see an ARM-compatible build in order to deny Linux a foothold in a growing market.

Microsoft may not be conceding the the ARM battlefield to Linux just yet, if comments made by the company's chief executive officer are true.

As reported over on Electronista, Warren East has pointed to ARM support in Windows 7 as a possibility for the future – finally breaking the barrier that ARM's latest processor chips would face to mass adoption.

In comments to press, East stated that Windows 7 would work “on a broader array of hardware than any other release of Windows at launch,” and despite this not including the non-x86 ARM instruction set at first he stated that “perhaps there will be support [for ARM] in future.

East went on to distance himself from the comments, stating that “that's really for Microsoft to comment on.” The move should come as no surprise, however: with several manufacturers seriously looking at ARM's new Cortex A8 and Cortex A9 chips for their performance at a particularly low power draw – and with no current version of Windows available for the ARM instruction set beyond the simplified Windows CE – Microsoft would be foolish to concede the next generation of netbook devices to rival operating system Linux without a fight.

The move comes as Linux enjoys a boost in usage, largely due to netbook devices, to 1 percent of the Internet-connected PC market. Figures from research organisation MarketShare – via DownloadSquad – show Linux breaking 1 percent of the market for the first time. While the open source operating system has a long way to go before it'll seriously challenge Windows – at 88 percent – or even Mac OS X – at 9.7 percent – the continued growth must be causing Microsoft a certain amount of concern.

Would an ARM build of Windows 7 running on a Cortex A9-based netbook be the king of the ultra-portable world, or is Microsoft barking up the wrong tree with this move? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

20 Comments

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Orlix 5th May 2009, 17:49 Quote
if MS does get Windows 7 to work on ARM, would it not be a big kick in the pants for Intel? a CPU that does not need their license but can run all of today's programs (with all of ARM limitations), might just be what the future of computing needs.
s3v3n 5th May 2009, 17:59 Quote
Will all windows applications work just like it does now? What about all those applications that need x86, emulation?
tejas 5th May 2009, 18:09 Quote
This means Nvidia will be able to make a CPU for Windows after all since Nvidia Tegra is a system on a chip on ARM architecture!! This will hurt Intel more than AMD tbh!

If this is indeed true then great move Microsoft!
The Bodger 5th May 2009, 18:09 Quote
Interesting. I'm currently doing some work on a Cortex A8 based CPU, running Linux. While this would be an interesting development, I have a few reservations regarding Windows 7 on the ARM.

These mainly revolve around Compatibility with existing software, and OS Size / Speed. Linux has already been pared down and runs very well indeed on these low power CPUs. I have a build here on my ARM A8 using only a fraction of the resources of any recent Microsoft OS, running very nippily on a system with only a 512Mb flash drive and 256Mb of DDR1 RAM. On the Driver / software compatibility front, the ARM is a totally different architecture to the x86. There will be a lot of hardware interface problems to overcome, which Linux has already had years to sort out. All the Windows API calls will need to interface to a completely new underlying architecture, meaning that they can't be cross compiled, they will surely have to be re-written. When doing this, MS will have to make certain that they maintain the common interface required for program compatibility with the x86 machines. This will essentially give Microsoft another code base to maintain, and even more trouble than they already have performing bug fixes and keeping support across the two very different architectures.

That said, if they pull it off, MS may well get a foothold in the growing ultra portable market. Sadly there seem to be many people who lack the patience to try something different, and would happily take the machine with the MS Windows install on it just because it means they don't need to spend time learning their way around it. Furthermore, if MS did port full Windows 7 to the ARM, they could potentially do away with Windows Mobile; I can imagine that companies that have to make Windows x86 PC compatible utilities to complement their hand held smartphones / similar products may welcome this - code recycling would be much easier if their portable hand held devices ran the same OS as the machines they usually talk to. Ultimately I feel it would come down to OS stability and how steep Microsofts Royalties / installation fees will be for use of "Windows 7 ARM edition", and what, if any limitations MS impose upon the ported version of their OS.
perplekks45 5th May 2009, 19:36 Quote
Definitely worth watching.
wuyanxu 5th May 2009, 19:43 Quote
as Bodger said, i don't think it's going to happen within 1 or 2 year of Win7 official release, there's simply too much needs to be re-written.

but great news, more reason to study RISC architecture!
Cupboard 5th May 2009, 20:58 Quote
The Bodger: unless WinMO devices improve a lot in speed then they are no space for a full blown version of Windows.

Otherwise I think this sound great, but I don't want to see it working but unusable - putting too much of a strain on the limited resources available and bogging everything down.

edit: actually, if my assumptions are correct, which they probably aren't, why would they need two version of Windows? Once they have made one that will run on a reduced instruction set processor, like the relevant ARMs, then will that not work on an x86 CPU too? Or do reduced instruction processors have some different ones to x86?
ch424 5th May 2009, 21:09 Quote
Remember that apple made the leap to intel without a huge amount of (perceived) trouble...
Jenny_Y8S 5th May 2009, 21:13 Quote
If they do it in a reasonable timeframe, they'll just slap an x86 virtual layer over the base hardware and have the arm transparent to most installed apps. Tweaking the .net frameworks with an optimised JIT compiler will restore performance to the apps which play things the MS way.

The more hardware choices the better!
yodasarmpit 5th May 2009, 21:21 Quote
I'll certainly be watching this with interest, in the mobile device market this would make application portability and functionality a much more achievable goal.
Mankz 5th May 2009, 22:13 Quote
Oooh! Me likey..
Turbotab 6th May 2009, 02:56 Quote
Ironic that after all these years Apple redesigned their OS from RISC to X86, and now Microsoft might go from X86 to RISC. Does Windows Mobile CE run natively on RISC processors?
Saivert 6th May 2009, 05:19 Quote
Windows CE (which Windows Mobile is based on) runs on several instruction set platforms like ARM, MIPS and x86. Microsoft has enough knowledge from WinCE to be porting Win7 to ARM. And they can in fact cross-compile a lot of stuff. They only need to re-write the kernel and Win32 subsystem. All userland code will just have to be recompiled for a new ARM-target just like WinCE apps.

This will in many ways be no different than the current situation with AMD64 (x86_64, x64) apps vs. old x86 code.
p3n 6th May 2009, 08:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ch424
Remember that apple made the leap to intel without a huge amount of (perceived) trouble...

OSX is unix :p
Nikumba 6th May 2009, 09:40 Quote
Also dont forget Microsoft use to make WIndows NT and 2000 for alpha chips, so it would not suprise me if there is a code tree for 7 that would work with a different cpu arch

Kimbie
BLC 6th May 2009, 10:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Bodger
<snippety>

Furthermore, if MS did port full Windows 7 to the ARM, they could potentially do away with Windows Mobile; I can imagine that companies that have to make Windows x86 PC compatible utilities to complement their hand held smartphones / similar products may welcome this - code recycling would be much easier if their portable hand held devices ran the same OS as the machines they usually talk to. </snippety>

This holds far more appeal to me than a desktop version of ARM-based Windows 7. I've long been a fan of Windows Mobile devices (my latest being the Touch Diamond), but it just feels like there's something lacking.

One thing I have noticed is that the centralised application distribution platforms of the iPhone and Google Android have both helped to spread adoption of what is essentially a high-power smartphone. Windows Mobile-based devices have been around for much longer, but haven't had the same level of consumer adoption. With their "cloud computing" projects and Live, it does seem as if they are attempting to moving to a completely seamless service. It's not hard to imagine a world where I can seamlessly move between my mobile phone, desktop PC and netbook, while retaining all my applications, data & services. That's possible now, but by using a more familiar platform for developers, it could make the process a whole hell of a lot easier.

Not to mention the difference it can make to actually using the device itself; Windows Mobile has made great strides over the years, but it's still not quite there. At it's heart, it's still an overhauled version of WinCE. It takes third parties, such as HTC, to make vast improvements on the interface and improve the user experience (see HTC TouchFlo).

I do recall reading a while ago that Microsoft have made progress in overhauling the kernel - now called "MinWin" - of the operating system and reducing it's dependencies; a stripped down version was demonstrated which only consumed a measly 25mb of disk space and 40mb of RAM. It's not hard to imagine that miniature core kernel forming the basis of an ARM-based version. (linkies: http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2007/10/core-of-windows-7-taking-shape-meet-the-minwin-kernel.ars , http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=842 and more from google: http://www.google.co.uk/search?rlz=1C1CHNH_en-GBGB326&aq=f&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=minwin )
perplekks45 6th May 2009, 10:48 Quote
WinMin seems to be very interesting. So does Live Mesh.
I think we'll see a lot of development and change in both the mobile devices and cloud computing/thin client sectors in the next couple of years.
BLC 6th May 2009, 12:15 Quote
While Eric Traut's now infamous demonstration is nothing more than an academic exercise, it is a proof of concept. If we're talking about Win7 on mobile devices, then the first steps have already been taken - notwithstanding the task of porting it to a different architecture ;).

It won't be the desktop version of Win7 on a mobile device, but the very core of the platform could be the same.

Although instead of philosophising on the future of Windows on ARM, I think for now I'll be content with waiting for Windows Mobile 7 ;)
tank_rider 6th May 2009, 13:02 Quote
This will open up ION2 devices that would currently be limited by the lack of a compatible windows too. Finally it might push intel to do something about the shocking chipset they force to go with atom cpu's.
Shielder 6th May 2009, 16:18 Quote
Unfortunately, porting Win 7 to ARM won't be the show stopper, it is the applications that are important. Slapping an x86 execution layer on the top of the ARM chip sounds good in principle, but in practice I can see that this will slow things right down. Look at the Itanium and it's x86 execution layer, and that was hardware. How many processor cycles is converting the x86 instruction to ARM and back again going to take?

Even with Linux the x86 and x86-64 instruction sets are different, requiring each package to be compiled for different processors.

I can't see mobile devices coming with enough memory and graphics power to give the users the GUI experience that they will expect from Win 7. Certainly not in the timeframe before Win 8 at least.

Sorry, but I think this just seems to be a red herring to me. Wishful thinking on the part of MS. After all, the license costs for the apps that you want to run will inflate the cost of the device.

Rant over. Run Linux instead :)

Andy
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