The growing threat ARM's architecture represents to x86 has been one of the tech stories of the year, and ARM gained more momentum late last week as software giant Microsoft - one-half of what was once known as the Wintel duopoly - announced that it has become a licence holder for the ARM architecture.

The news comes shortly after ARM announced a partnership with chip fabricator TSMC, and shows just how popular the RISC-based architecture is becoming - and with Microsoft on board, how much of a threat it represents to the dominance of AMD and Intel as providers of consumer CPUs.

Although Microsoft and ARM have worked together in the past - most notably on Windows CE and Windows Mobile support for the platform - some of the commentary from both companies indicates that this latest agreement is something new for the pair.

Mike Muller, ARM's chief technology officer, claims that the new licensing terms allows Microsoft to "be at the forefront of applying and working with ARM technology in concert with a broad range of businesses and addressing multiple application areas" - possibly, just maybe, hinting at a full-fat edition of Windows for ARM-based processors.

That possibility is enhanced by other comments made by KD Hallman, Microsoft's general manager, who stated that "we deliver multiple operating systems on [ARM's] architecture, most notably Windows Embedded and Windows Phone," while claiming that "closer access to the ARM technology [means that] we will be able to enhance our research and development activities for ARM-based products."

With the embedded and mobile variants of Windows already pretty well researched and developed, you have to wonder why Microsoft would bother to reference such things - unless, that is, the company is looking to head off the threat of ARM-based ultra-portable netbooks and notebooks running Linux by offering an ARM-compatible build of Windows 7.

Such a move would leave Intel steaming: software support is a key advantage for the chip giant. If Microsoft chooses to support ARM with its Windows 7 - or, depending on how long such research takes, Windows 8 - operating system, Intel's grip on the market could be badly shaken.

An even more drastic possibility for Microsoft is that it's exploring making its own ARM-derived CPU, just as Apple has with the A4. As we know Microsoft is letting partners manufacturer Windows 7 Phones, what hardware does Microsoft manufacture that it might need a CPU for? How about the next Xbox?

Whatever the agreement ultimately leads to, it's another fascinating move in the battle between ARM and Intel. Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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