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12/22/2010
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Microsoft Developing Windows For ARM Devices

The operating system would offer multitasking capabilities to the low-power processor that dominates tablets and handheld devices, say reports.

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Microsoft is reportedly planning to release a version of its Windows operating system running for the first time on processors developed by ARM Holdings, which are dominant in the tablet and handheld device market, according to various sources.

The ARM chip architecture competes with the x86 designs from Intel as well as chips made by Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, and Texas Instruments, and is used in the majority of smartphones as well as the Apple iPad. The architecture is ideal for mobile devices because it uses less power than the x86 chips. However, while the x86 supports multiple software -- even older versions -- ARM cannot, nor can it handle multitasking features, which is the motive for Microsoft to write a new platform for it, industry observers say. The announcement is expected to be made next month at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Microsoft's recently released Windows 7 smartphone runs on Qualcomm's 1-GHz Snapdragon processor, which uses the ARM architecture. Generally, ARM supports Linux-based operating systems rather than the majority of Windows versions, although Microsoft has a version of Windows Embedded Compact that runs on ARM.

The move away from Intel's Atom could decrease costs and mean different vendors would be brought in to produce chips for Windows tablets and provide flexibility to decide on the chipset.

Industry observers say the best way for Microsoft to compete with the market-leading Apple iPad is to develop a full-featured version of Windows for ARM chips, since it hasn't duplicated its success in the PC market with a tablet yet. Intel is going up against the Cambridge, England-based ARM by trying to get into tablets and smartphones. Unlike Intel, ARM doesn't make the electronics components, rather it sells the rights to use its patents and chip designs. As a result, Intel prices its Atom processors higher in order to recoup its hardware costs. Intel has also invested heavily in software coding for the Atom processor to impact its power-gating techniques to save energy.

Since the iPad was launched last April, Apple has sold 7.46 million of the devices through September. The iPad comprised 95% of the tablet market in the last quarter, according to Strategy Analytics. Some analysts have speculated that Windows tablets would be less expensive than the iPad, and would run on Windows 7 OS and possibly also its new Windows 8 OS.

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