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Microsoft bringing Windows 10 to ARM chips, with caveats

Writing for The Verge, Tom Warren talks to Windows chief Terry Myerson about plans to bring Windows 10 to ARM chips next year:

Windows 10 on ARM is arriving thanks to a partnership with Qualcomm. Initially, Microsoft will support the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors, and laptops are expected to be the first devices we’ll see in the market next year. Microsoft is enabling Windows 10 to support ARM chips directly by building an emulator into the operating system. Devices will be able to run x86 win32 applications like Chrome or Photoshop, but Microsoft won’t be emulating x64 variants of these apps. That’s not a huge problem as not many apps have been compiled for x64 instructions, and most that have also have an x86 counterpart. What this means is you’ll be able to buy a lightweight laptop with good battery life and support for Windows desktop apps next year.

Windows apps (or, at least, 32-bit versions) won’t have to be changed or recompiled—they’ll run in emulation, much as Classic MacOS apps did in the early days of OS X. That means that performance on ARM certainly won’t be as good as on Intel. But that’s okay: the focus for Microsoft seems to be about providing devices with better battery life and cellular connectivity.

Macs running on ARM chips have been a topic of discussion for a while, with both Jason and yours truly weighing in at various points. I think most Apple observers would agree that the company probably has a build of macOS running on ARM somewhere in Infinite Loop, even if it never sees the light of day.

In both the cases of Microsoft and Apple, ARM support is a lever against the monolith that is Intel, who both the companies have had their fair share of struggles with. While ARM-running Macs aren’t likely to show up anytime soon, I’m sure the folks in Cupertino will be watching Microsoft’s moves with interest.