ARM announced today that Microsoft has become an ARM architecture licensee.
The ARM architecture is used in all of today’s phones and smartphones, and many other devices in the embedded space.
ARM is the company that creates system designs, that are then produced and sold (after possible modifications and/or additions) by its licensees.
Microsoft already has two operating systems that work on the ARM architecture, Windows Mobile and Windows Embedded, with a third, Windows Phone, to be released later this year.
This agreement could simply mean that Microsoft wants closer access to ARM’s architectural designs to better optimize its aforementioned operating systems for the hardware that will run them.
The rumor mill is filled with claims that this means that Microsoft will release an ARM version of Windows, but that’s really a stretch at this point and probably won’t happen before the release of Windows 8 in 2012.
Another interpretation of this deal may be that Microsoft is preparing to copy Apple and go into processor production. While Microsoft is never shy to boldly go where Apple has gone before (the latest example being all the different limitations that Windows Phone 7 will have, that are surprisingly similar to iOS 1), more information is needed here as to why they’d do this.
It may mean that Microsoft is gearing up to introduce its own Windows Phone 7 hardware. But the Windows Phone 7 hardware requirements are already set pretty high, so the aim of this can’t possibly be similar to what Google had in mind with the Nexus One (pushing hardware partners to offer higher-spec devices). And apart from that reason, competing with companies that you regard as partners is never a good idea.
This may also be an overarching effort from Microsoft related more to consumer products such as the Xbox game console, the Zune MP3 players or even tablets. Microsoft may try and develop an ARM-based processor for the Xbox, or design the processors for the Zunes and possible future Windows Embedded-running tablets itself.
Another less exciting possibility might be that Microsoft is looking to equip the Bing data centers with ARM-based servers, for their much lower power consumption compared to traditional, x86 servers.
This is all speculation at this point, and whatever Microsoft’s actual plans are, we’ll surely find out soon enough.
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