In an unexpected move, Microsoft tonight announced a major new partnership with Qualcomm to port Windows 10 to ARM. No, not Windows 10 Mobile. Real Windows 10 on a new generation of portable PCs.
“What we’re really providing here is choice,” Microsoft executive vice president Terry Myerson told me earlier this week. “And Qualcomm chipsets have two major advantages that our PC maker partners and customers have been asking for: Incredible battery life and efficient, integrated cellular connectivity.”
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Of course, you may be thinking, hold on a second here. I’ve read this story before. This is just Windows RT again, right?
This is full Windows 10 for PCs, not some stripped down version. It’s Windows 10 Home and Pro, on ARM. And Windows 10 Enterprise, with all the functionality that businesses expect, including domain join. This is Windows RT done right.
Even better, Windows 10 on ARM will supply a long-rumored feature: The ability to run 32-bit Win32/x86 desktop applications—Apple iTunes, Adobe Photoshop, Google Chrome, whatever—directly on the system, unchanged.
Two major technological changes have made this miracle possible. First, Qualcomm’s System on a Chip (Soc) designs have improved so dramatically in the past four years that their performance rivals that of mainstream Intel Core chipsets for PCs. And even better, Microsoft has developed an emulation technology that allows Win32 applications to launch and run unmodified on ARM-based PCs. And to do so with what I am assured is excellent performance.
According to Mr. Myerson, where ARM-based PCs really exceed their Intel-based equivalents from a power management perspective is that they provide a much lower idle power draw. “Basically, they hold their charge longer when sitting unused in a bag,” he told me. In use, with the screen on, the experience was “similar,” he said.
But ARM chipsets also provide integrated cellular modems, enabling what Microsoft calls not just pervasive connectivity, but everywhere connectivity. And to support smartphone-style connectivity on these new PCs, Microsoft will sell data connectivity directly from the Windows Store, and will change Windows 10 so that it can intelligently move between Wi-Fi and cellular networks on the fly. Users will be able to provision and use cellular data from a variety of sources, I was told.
“Device makers have been requesting this,” Mr. Myerson told me, noting that the first ARM-based Windows 10 PCs would be mobile devices, like laptops. But this doesn’t signal an end to the Intel era, he said, Instead, PC makers and customers could choose based on their needs, and thanks to the Win32 emulation technology, application compatibility won’t be the problem it was in the past. Naturally, those with high-performance needs—gaming PCs or mixed reality, for example—will continue to choose Intel (or AMD).
As rumored, this functionality will require Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon 835 SoC and, as such, it will be late 2017 or sometime next year before such devices are shipping in volume. In other words, this isn’t happening in the Windows 10 Creators Update timeframe. Instead, this will be a feature of the next version of Windows 10, which is expected in late 2017.
“The natural timeline for devices is normally about two years,” Myerson told me. “But what we’re doing is developing this technology in the open, rather than doing it with a more limited group under NDA. So we’ve decided to come here to China and reveal our plans. Hardware makers will create great devices on their own timelines. Some can do amazing work in a year [meaning late 2017], while some will begin shipping in early 2018.”
Naturally, I had to ask about Windows 10 Mobile and Surface phone.
After all, rumors about a Surface phone, perhaps one that could run Windows desktop applications when docked with Continuum, have been making the rounds for months. If not years.
“Today we are announcing support for PCs on Qualcomm Snapdragon SOCs,” I was told.
Right. But what about the future?
“Today we are announcing support for PCs on Qualcomm Snapdragon SOCs.”
The suggestion here, I suppose, is that some future version of the Win32 emulation technology could be made to run on Windows 10 Mobile. Since Windows 10 Mobile is, after all, a variant of Windows 10.
But I think there is a more intriguing possibility afoot and it’s one that Mary Jo Foley and I arrived at on Windows Weekly back in September (if I remember correctly). Perhaps Surface phone isn’t a phone in the traditional sense. Perhaps it is, instead, just a new kind of PC with a small—for PCs; I’m hearing 6-inches—screen. A Surface Mobile, if you will.
That, of course, is just speculation. But Windows 10 on ARM—full Windows 10 on ARM—is real. And it’s happening. And I am suddenly very excited for a future in which portable PCs can be true best-of-breed devices that meld the best of the PC with the best of today’s mobile devices, and do so in a way that isn’t burdened by compromise.
We live in exciting times.
<blockquote><em><a href="#29129">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/jgoraya">jgoraya</a><a href="#29129">:</a></em></blockquote>
<p>Question is not if it can run those programs, but how well can it run those programs?</p>
<p>Kudos to MS. If anything, I see this as MS answer to Google’s Chromebook</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#29464">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/Waethorn">Waethorn</a><a href="#29464">:</a></em></blockquote>
<p>Not anymore. That ship has sailed. The A10 SoC in the iPhone 7 / 7 Plus is as fast as the Intel Core m processor that’s used in the 12" Retina Macbook and non-Pro Surface models and faster than Intel’s Atom processor. And I’ll wager the Qualcomm 835 SoC will be quite a bit faster than Intel’s Atom processor. </p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#29160">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/maethorechannen">maethorechannen</a><a href="#29160">:</a></em></blockquote>
<p>It won’t be that much different in price and the performance benefits and capabilities easily outweigh any price difference, especially in enterprise or education. Having said that, I should’ve been more clear because I was referring to PC’s, as in laptops / tablets. A thin / light laptop or better yet a Surface Pro running Windows 10 on ARM would be a great alternative to a Chromebook.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#29673">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/SvenJ">SvenJ</a><a href="#29673">:</a> As a practical matter, do you think you can effectively use Win32 apps running on your phone "on the go"? You probably don’t carry a keyboard, mouse, and monitor away from home so continuum is just as tethered as a PC.</em></blockquote>
<blockquote><em><a href="#29703">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/kadajawi">kadajawi</a><a href="#29703">:</a></em></blockquote>
<p>Having separate work and home devices is actually a good idea. And lugging around a keyboard and monitor or hoping you can find a TV you can easily attach your device to sounds inferior to just bringing a laptop that integrates everything in one device. If it works for you, great, but I doubt many people will buy into it.</p>
<p>this is what I keep predicting since more than a year: I did call these devices 3-in-1 with the following line of argumentation: it is relatively easy to teach a Win10 (PC) OS to provide cellular phone functionality at least compared to teaching a phone OS all the PC functionality. all the other (myriad) of sensors are already fully supported anyhow.</p>
<p>that does however still trigger the need for applications (or apps if you will) to support the various different sizes of screen real-estate (and DPI) and user interfaces (touch, pen, keyboard, mouse)</p>
<p>for me to fully leverage the best of all "usage modes" I would like to see transparent sharing of data in rest, in memory (at least clipboard) and (one can always dream) flexible migration of workload between devices (moving an in flight application between devices) – literally creating a dynamic working cluster of devices (phone, tablet, desktop)</p>
<p>This is good.</p>
<p>However, in order for Windows PCs to halt or at least slow the rate of decline, it has to change one thing, Windows itself.</p>
<p>If ARM can make PC’s cheaper, faster, and last longer than they are now, then GREAT! However, I seriously doubt that the average person cares about stuff like this, nor do they want to know. What they care about it, is getting stuff done faster and easier, with no problems at all.</p>
<p>Once site already reported on this news and the author speculated on how he expects PC’s to be cheaper and more competitive to Chromebooks. People, right now, there is no comparison. Chromebooks and iPads are popular because they are S-I-M-P-L-E, Simple. When Windows becomes simpler, then there is really reason to be excited. As of now, this news is just…ok.</p>
<p>I think the key issue is price/performance. If emulation allows a high-end ARM processor to run Win32 apps as well as a low or mid-level X86 at about the same price, I’m not sure what difference it will make (I have no idea what OEM prices are, so I’m not making any claims). It’s also easy to imagine that the demo cherry-picked examples, we won’t really know the performance until the products are available. I could see Intel dropping prices if this looked like a credible threat.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#29430">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/lordbaal1">lordbaal1</a><a href="#29430">:</a></em></blockquote>
<p>I think it’s the siren call of having one device that does everything. But the historical evidence is that these "all-in-one", generic solutions are always a compromise. While it can be handy using the tools on a Swiss Army Knife in a pinch, you wouldn’t want to use them as your exclusive tools for serious work.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#29702">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/kadajawi">kadajawi</a><a href="#29702">:</a></em></blockquote>
<p>The speed of the processor isn’t the main issue, it’s the ergonomics. There’s no reason to buy an expensive smartphone just so it can act as a portable CPU unit for desktop peripherals. The fundamental value of any portable device is how useful it is in a mobile environment. </p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#29441">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/truerock">truerock</a><a href="#29441">:</a></em></blockquote>
<p>There was no backward compatibility issues in the Unix world that would give Intel CPUs an "unfair" advantage and yet they are dominant today for Linux-based servers even though Linux can run on many different CPUs. So perhaps there’s more to the story than what some CS students understand. </p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#29523">In reply to </a><a href="../../../users/truerock">truerock</a><a href="#29523">:</a></em></blockquote>
<p>I think you missed my point. Which processor was used in the IBM PC wasn’t relevant to the Unix world for many years. If RISC CPUs were so significantly superior why aren’t they the most popular processors used for Unix/Linux servers?</p>