In a press conference that was closed to video, Microsoft gave the gathered reporters for a first glimpse of the next version of Windows–the company won’t call it Windows 8 yet–running on ARM processors, as well as chips from its longstanding partner Intel.Windows President Steve Sinofsky kicked it off by noting how hardware requirements have increased for Windows over time–whose fault is that?–but also said that mobile requirements are increasing twice as fast.
The company’s solution is to design the next version of Windows for “system on a chip” architectures. That lets hardware makers ship a bunch of necessary components for Windows on a single chip, which means longer battery life and smaller size.
The real news here, though, is that Microsoft is moving Windows to ARM, the lower-powered chips that run most smartphones and tablets today. This is something that the company has considered several times in the past, but only started working on seriously about a year ago, shortly after Windows 7 was released. It’s a major break in Microsoft’s longstanding relationship with Intel.
But don’t get too excited: the next version of Windows won’t be out until 2012 at the earliest.
In addition, it’s not clear that battery life is the main thing holding Windows tablets back. Rather, Windows was designed for a keyboard and pixel-pointing mouse, not for stubby fingers, unlike Android and the iPhone. In addition, there aren’t many touch-ready apps available for Windows. Porting Windows to ARM does nothing to change that–in fact, any developer who’s created an app for the Intel (x86 or 64-bit) versions of Windows will have to port it to ARM anyway.
So, this announcement is a sign that Microsoft is finally taking tablets seriously, but it’s going to give competitors a heck of a head start.