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Windows on System-on-a-Chip

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Microsoft has announced they are working on bringing Windows to the SoC platform enabling software and hardware manufacturers to target devices having all sorts of form factors and running on Microsoft’s operating system.

During CES  2011, Microsoft announced that the future version of Windows will support System-on-a-Chip (SoC) platforms. SoC are an attempt to integrate as many components as possible in a single chip, which is supposed to offer the computability power of a full size system but taking a lot less space and, especially, consuming less power. They announced work in progress to make Windows run on SoC from NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, all built on an ARM architecture. In the same time, Intel and AMD will continue to innovate on their x86 32-bit and 64-bit platforms in order to create SoC platforms for Windows.

Mike Angiulo, Corporate Vice President, Windows Planning, Hardware & PC Ecosystem, at Microsoft, demoed a version of Windows running on an Intel Atom SoCs during Steve Ballmer’s keynote at CES. The version of Windows prototype shown was a Windows 7 enhanced to run on Atom and ARM. The SoC is the size of a thumbnail and it’s motherboard the size of a small phone, being able to be built into a phone along with a battery and a screen, yet in the same time being able to run a full blown version of Windows. According the Angiulo, the Intel Atom SoC is compatible with “all the existing software and hardware applications that run on Windows today”, “anything that works on Windows, works right out of the box here”.

Angiulo also showed running Windows on Snapdragon from Qualcomm, on OMAP from Texas Instruments, and on Tegra from NVidia, all based on an ARM architecture. Unlike natively running on Intel’s Atom, Windows applications need to be recompiled in order to be running on ARM. He showed Word, PowerPoint, hardware accelerated HTML5 in IE9, full HD video, all running on ARM. He also printed a page on a regular printer after the print driver was recompiled for ARM. The advantage of the ARM-based platforms is a very low power consumption.

Windows for SoC will open the opportunity for Microsoft and manufacturers to target all sorts of devices, in all form factors, bringing the entire Windows ecosystem, the operating system and applications built for it, to tablets, energy efficient netbooks and laptops, Surface, and other devices that might appear in the future. They could target even smartphones, but that is a strange idea considering Microsoft already has Phone 7 for that.

There was no roadmap presented. It is not known when this version of Windows will be production ready, or what it is going to be called. Most probably, it will be a flavor of version 8 of Windows.

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