Windows on ARM will be 'huge,' exec says

With multiple devices expected to run Microsoft's new mobile OS, future is bright, says ARM executive VP

BARCELONA -- The potential of Windows 8 on ARM has excited tablet and laptop users globally but none more than the U.K. firm that provides the reference design for processors used in most smartphones and in iOS and Android tablets.

"Windows on ARM (WOA) will be hugely successful and is a huge opportunity for ARM," said Lance Howarth, executive vice president of ARM marketing in an interview at Mobile World Congress here.

Howarth spoke to Computerworld just hours before the Windows 8 Consumer Release event scheduled today for a hotel near the conference. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is expected to speak at the event.

ARM is especially encouraged that Windows 8 is slated to appear on multiple devices, at least according to a plan set out in a now-famous blog post by Microsoft's Windows chief Steven Sinofsky on Feb. 9.

The blog said WOA would run on tablets, laptops, ultrabooks and desktops.

The Windows 8 event Wednesday at the Hotel Miramar in Barcelona is slated to last a full two hours, and won't be webcast as Microsoft often does with its major announcements.

Howarth confirmed that Microsoft will release the Consumer Preview software for download in conjunction with the event, or possibly just before.

Windows 8 "breaks the Wintel architecture," Howarth said. "Microsoft will support Office on Arm through Metro and desktop versions and you will be able to move freely between the two with full compatibility."

The consumer release can't be downloaded on ARM hardware, obviously because there is none yet, Howarth noted.

"There's no difference between ARM and Intel with respect to Windows 8," he added.

Howarth noted that while WOA will be a boon for ARM, the company already has 270 different partners using the reference design to build chips.

In 2011, 8 billion chips based on ARM technology were built globally, and only one-third were used on phones. The majority were used in other devices, including embedded chips that control machines, he said.

Working with the likes of Apple, Google and now Microsoft, ARM must be careful with customer-partners, supporting them and agreeing not to share their secrets, Howarth added.

"We describe ourselves as a neutral party, the Switzerland of the semiconductor world," Howarth said. "Our partnerships are based on trust."

ARM's mobile success comes in part due to its ability to show strong energy efficiency. While Intel has been able to produce an efficient Atom mobile chip, the Medfield, Howarth said that it "is two generations behind ARM ... on energy efficiency."

ARM, with about 2,000 employees around the world, has had about 6 workers stationed in Seattle to work directly with Microsoft on Windows Mobile and its other OSs. The work with Microsoft started about a dozen years ago, he said .

Howarth acknowledged that the ARM brand isn't widely known, even though it's very widely used. "We have what we call anonymous ubiquity," he said. "We're everywhere, but nobody knows it."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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