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Microsoft To Deliver Windows 10 On ARM Chips With Qualcomm Deal

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Stop the press! Microsoft teams up with Qualcomm to deliver full Windows 10 OS on ARM chips

Microsoft’s ignominious retreat from the mobile market could be over, after news broke of a new partnership agreement between Redmond and Qualcomm.

The deal will see Qualcomm collaborating with Microsoft to support Windows 10 on next generation Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.

The deal is highly significant and potentially spells more bad news for Intel, as the Windows operating system has long been anchored to traditional Intel x86 processors, forcing Microsoft to develop separate mobile operating systems (i.e Windows Phone) that could run on ARM-based processors.

windowsphone8screenOne OS, Multiple Platforms

News that a full-fledged Windows 10 experience will work on upcoming ARM-based processors built by Qualcomm was revealed at Microsoft’s hardware developer conference in Shenzhen, China.

Qualcomm, it should be remembered, is the firm behind the Snapdragon processors. Indeed, its ARM-based processors power the majority of high-end Android phones.

“Qualcomm have announced they are collaborating with Microsoft to support Windows 10 Computing Devices on Next Generation Qualcomm Snapdragon Processors,” said the mobile chip maker.

“Supporting full compatibility with the Windows 10 ecosystem, the Snapdragon processor is designed to enable Windows hardware developers to create next generation device form factors, providing mobility to cloud computing.”

Microsoft’s intention is to develop one operating system (Windows 10 at the moment) that can run across multiple hardware platforms including PCs, tablets and mobile devices. In order to achieve that lofty aim, Redmond badly needed its OS to be able to operate on ARM-based processors.

“We are excited to bring Windows 10 to the ARM ecosystem with Qualcomm Technologies,” said Terry Myerson, executive VP of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft. “We continue to look for ways to empower our customers to create wherever they are.”

“Bringing Windows 10 to life with a range of thin, light, power-efficient and always-connected devices, powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform, is the next step in delivering the innovations our customers love – touch, pen, Windows Hello, and more – anytime, anywhere,” he said.

“Qualcomm Snapdragon processors offer one of the world’s most advanced mobile computing features…all while supporting thin, fan-less designs and long battery life,” said Cristiano Amon, executive VP, Qualcomm Technologies “With compatibility with the Windows 10 ecosystem, the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform is expected to support mobility to cloud computing and redefine how people will use their compute devices.”

This first PCs running Windows 10 based on Snapdragon processors are expected to be available as early as next year.

Trying Again?

Before Windows fans get too excited however, it should be remembered that Microsoft has got previous form here. Firstly, Windows RT tried (but failed) to deliver a full-fledged Windows environment on top of ARM microprocessors.

Samsung Windows RT tablet

Secondly, Microsoft’s mobile strategy is in tatters after it retreated from the consumer smartphone market after it wrote down or sold off its smartphone assets acquired from Nokia, gutting the former Nokia handset division in the process.

Earlier this month CEO Satya Nadella faced some very blunt questions from Microsoft shareholders over Redmond’s future mobile strategy.

At the time, Nadella gave vague explanations in answer to those questions, but the Qualcomm announcement seems to have placed these responses into a better context.

“When we control things silicon-up, that’s how we will integrate those experiences,” Nadella said in answer to one shareholder question. The company will “build devices that are unique and differentiated with our software capability on top of it – whether it’s Surface or Surface Studio or HoloLens or the phone – and also make our software applications available on Android and iOS and other platforms. That’s what I think is needed in order for Microsoft to help you as a user get the most out of our innovation”.

Microsoft has long said its mobile ambitions are not dead, but it is unlikely to return to the consumer market with a conventional smartphone.

Instead, its mobile devices will attempt to carve out an entirely new category, as evidenced by the HP Elite x3 device.

It has even been suggested the first ‘Surface’ phone could make its debut in 2017.

Quiz: Think you know all about Nokia?