Microsoft Corp. confirmed Wednesday that it is developing a version of its main Windows operating system that will run on cell phone chips, providing an alternative for the first time in many years to the chips based on Intel technology.
The new version could take advantage of the power savings provided by cell phone chips, and give Microsoft a better chance of gaining a foothold in the emerging world of tablet computers. Apple Inc.’s hit iPad tablet runs on a cell phone-type chip, which is part of the reason it can last 10 hours on one charge.
Steve Sinofsky, president of the Windows division, demonstrated at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas prototype computers running Windows on chips designed by ARM Holdings, a British company whose technology goes into practically all cell phone chips.
Sinofsky didn’t say when the new version of Windows would be available, but intimated that it might be one or a few years away.
ARM provides the core blueprints for the chips, but doesn’t make chips itself. The chips used in Wednesday’s demonstration were made by Qualcomm Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and Nvidia Corp.
A key drawback to moving to another “processor architecture” is that programs created for the current version of Windows won’t work on the new chips. Peripherals like printers won’t work either, without new software aides, or “drivers.”
“Under the hood, there’s a ton of issues to work out,” Sinofsky said. He demonstrated versions of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer and Media Player running under ARM, but didn’t say how third-party developers would deal with the switch. Apple navigated a switch of processor architecture in the last decade, but Microsoft’s task is far larger, since it works with far more partners, both on the hardware and software sides.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported on Microsoft’s development of an ARM-based Windows version.
Microsoft already makes software called “Windows” for cell phones, but it has little in common with the software that runs on computers, and doesn’t run the same programs.