Don't act so surprised, Microsoft has supported ARM for ages

A report by Bloomberg on Tuesday evening said Microsoft is working "for the first time" on a version of Windows that is not based on the x86 instruction set, but instead on the ARM instruction set popular in mobile devices.

The report, which was followed by another similarly-sourced article in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, both say the operating system will be targeted at the consumer mobility market, with tablets specifically in mind, and that it won't come to market until 2013.

Though the reports are quick to call the move an attempt to catch up to the latest tablet computing paradigm, they also overlook nearly all of Microsoft's historical activity with ARM: Windows Phone, Windows Mobile, and Windows Embedded CE have all supported chips running the ARM instruction set.

Furthermore, Windows CE, a version of Windows for reduced instruction sets (ARM, MIPS, SH) came about due specifically to Microsoft's interest in tablet computing more than a decade ago. The suggestion that Microsoft is playing catch-up to Apple and the iPad with this move are a bit presumptuous.

After merging the defunct WinPad project with a connected PDA project code-named Pulsar, the first stable version of Windows CE was released in November 1996. It supported 480 x 240 LCD touchscreens with stylus-based input, and ran on the SH and MIPS processor architecture. Since that time, the OS received support for ARM and x86 processors, and has been used on everything from cable set-top boxes to the Sega Dreamcast video game system.

Windows Embedded CE, as it's been called since 2006, has been due for a refresh for quite a while. Since just before Microsoft's renewed licensing deal with ARM last July, Windows Embedded CE 7 has been available as a Community Technology Preview.

Some speculated that Microsoft's licensing renewal with ARM could have signified a knowledge of an even more advanced ARM architecture which the company could get the jump on, but the accuracy of this is currently unknown.

Windows Embedded CE 7, which is referred to in much of Microsoft's marketing material simply as "Windows Compact 7" includes support for the ARMv7 instruction set and Dual Core CPUs, Bluetooth 3.0, advanced touch and gesture support, DLNA, NDIS 6.1, and is due for proper release in 2011. Naturally, it is being highlighted as a touch-based mobility solution.

The Windows Embedded team declined comment this morning, but we'll be looking to see what's in store at CES in just two weeks.

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