The next version of Windows or Windows 8 will run on a new generation of chips called ARM processors. ARM stands for Advanced RISC Machine and it really refers to the architecture or design of the chip rather than the processor itself. This is known as System on a Chip or SOC architecture.
Even though it is the chip that Windows 8 has apparently been designed to run on, ARM is not new. It has apparently been around since 1987 but it is now being widely adopted as the words of mobile devices and personal computers converge.
ARM processors are widely used in mobile phones, tablets, PDAs, iPads and similar devices because they are low powered. Therefore it is easy to see why Microsoft is moving towards ARM. It wants an operating system that can be run on both mobile devices and other devices. This will increase connectivity and make Windows applications more marketable.
Early versions of Windows 8 programs running on ARM processors have already been previewed at a number of conferences. Microsoft stables seen running on ARM include Word.
ARM Chips Could Be Cheaper
The economy could be one factor driving Microsoft’s focus to ARM for Windows. Media reports could indicate that devices with ARM processors will be cheaper. Since consumers have a lot less money than they did a few years ago that could be a very smart move. It could also facilitate Microsoft’s expansion into poorer, larger markets like India.
Microsoft is not the only company betting heavily on ARM. Intel has reportedly invested billions in ARM development, which could be an indication that the chip making giant thinks the days of the traditional PC are numbered.
Intel has also made some moves into software as well. The company has acquired McAfee for $7.68 billion. Trade publication EETimes speculates that this move was made to increase Intel’s ability to develop virtual operating systems for chips and to customize chips for virtual operating systems. It is possible that Intel could be planning to create its own operating system like Apple has or is planning to adopt another OS like Linux.
Can Older Software Run on New ARM Chips?
There could be a huge downside from the switch to ARM for computer users. Many observers including CEO Paul Otellini have speculated that ARM enabled Windows 8 will not run legacy Windows apps. Otenilli told EETImes that this could force businesses to spend billions on new programs designed for Windows 8.
Otenilli also speculated that the advent of ARM could fragment the software industry into four different operating systems. Other observers have noted that computer users will have to use virtualization in order to run older versions of Windows in Windows 8.
This fear may not pan out because other observers have noted that Microsoft’s new virtualization program Hyper V 3.0 will be built into Windows 8. This will allow users to easily run virtual desktops using other operating systems to run older programs.
Microsoft, it seems, learned its lesson when Windows 7 and Vista couldn’t run a lot of XP programs. Customers reacted by simply not buying 7 and Vista. Microsoft is trying to prevent that from occurring this time around by taking advantage of Hyper V 3.0’s capabilities.
Windows 8 will also run on other processors including Intel’s x86 chips so it will run other machines. It does seem certain that a computer will have to have HAV (hardware assisted virtualization) capacity to run Windows 8. HAV will undoubtedly be standard in future computers because most users have older software they want to use.
The Malware Threat and ARM
The big threat to ARM and Windows 8 could be malware. It has proven nearly impossible to keep Malware out of architecture like that used in Windows. Since Windows 8 seems to be an open architecture OS it could be highly vulnerable to Malware.
Even Apple’s Mac OS which is a closed architecture system has proven very vulnerable to Malware in recent months. One reason why the Malware threat is spreading is the growing use of open architecture social networks like Facebook which seem designed to spread Malware.
Microsoft will have to take steps to greatly improve security to retain market share. The most logical step would be to go to embedded security features in chips. This would probably be too expensive and hard to implement so Microsoft will need other solutions.
Part of the reason why so little of Windows 8 has been unveiled even though it is supposed to go on sale next years is that Microsoft is trying to keep its future security secret. That would prevent new Malware from being able to attack Windows 8 as soon as it appears.
Microsoft may also fear that high profile security breaches could torpedo the launch of Windows 8. So it is moving slowly. One problem facing Microsoft will be how to make an open architecture system designed to work on a wide variety of devices secure and function in the cloud secure. That could be impossible even with the new chip technologies.
ARM is the Future
ARM will apparently be the industry standard in the future. Eweek.com is reporting that Acer, Samsung, Toshiba and other manufacturers will bring out a new generation of ARM powered notebooks that will run Android as well as Windows. This means that Microsoft was definitely right to design Windows 8 to run on ARM.
This could mean that we could all be using two or three different operating systems on one computer in the near future. System on a Chip is definitely the future.