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Microsoft, ARM Expand Licensing Agreement

Licensing the entire microprocessor architecture may enable the software giant to enhance research and development opportunities for mobile phones and devices based on the market-leading ARM chips.
Microsoft has licensed the entire ARM architecture, giving the software maker deeper access to the microprocessor designer's technology.

Microsoft has been an ARM licensee since 1997, but the latest deal, announced Friday, is different in that gives the company access to the entire instruction set used by ARM processors. ARM chips are used in the vast majority of the world's mobile phones. Companies typically buy licenses to access particular ARM processors. Microsoft currently offers operating systems on the ARM architecture, including Windows Embedded and its mobile OS for cellular phones.

However, the latest deal places Microsoft among the handful of companies that ARM has identified as licensees of its entire instruction set, which describes the processors capabilities and how it manages memory and other subsystems in order to perform computing tasks. Other such licensees include chipmakers Infineon, Marvell and Qualcomm.

Microsoft declined to discuss why it needed to expand its access to ARM technology. "We are not sharing further details beyond what you see in the (press) release," a company spokeswoman said in an email sent to InformationWeek.

In the statement, K.D. Hallman, general manager of Microsoft, said, "With closer access to the ARM technology we will be able to enhance our research and development activities for ARM-based products."

Those products could include mobile devices beyond just mobile phones. ARM technology drives Apple's iPad, which is expected to jumpstart a new category of web-connected, entertainment-focused tablet-style computers. Such computers are expected from Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other computer makers.

However, ARM will face touch competition from Intel, which is expanding its line of Atom processors for such devices. Atom chips today are mostly used in inexpensive mini-laptops and netbooks.