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Windows 8 on ARM tablets, PCs ships to developers

After months of controlled demonstrations, developers will be able to play fully with Windows 8 on ARM devices

After months of restricted demonstrations, Microsoft is opening up tablets and PCs based on ARM processors with the Windows 8 OS to developer scrutiny, multiple companies said on Wednesday.

Developers are being sent Windows 8 tablets and PCs with Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 and Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 chips, which are based on ARM and include LTE 4G technology. The units will provide developers a full hands-on to Windows 8 on ARM and an opportunity to develop applications for the OS.

Qualcomm said it has already sent ARM-based PCs with Windows 8 to developers. Microsoft has a stock of Tegra 3 developer tablets that it will send to software developers, a source familiar with the product said. A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment on when developers would get the Tegra 3 tablets.

The release of developer systems is a step ahead in Microsoft's plans to release Windows 8 for ARM devices. So far OS demonstrations have been only conducted on prototype tablets handled by company officials, raising questions on how the OS would work under real-world conditions. Microsoft on Wednesday quelled rumors about Windows on ARM being delayed.

Microsoft also announced Windows 8 beta on Wednesday at an event in Barcelona, Spain, where the Mobile World Congress conference is taking place, but it has not announced an official release date for the OS. PC makers have pointed to Windows 8 being released in the second half of this year.

ARM processors are found in most smartphones and tablets that ship today. Microsoft has designed the OS to work on tablets and PCs, with a specific emphasis on touch capabilities. The OS has a new Metro user interface in which applications can be launched simply by touching a colored block.

Microsoft is working with Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments to make Windows 8 compatible with ARM. The chip makers have been engineering chips to meet basic hardware requirements set by Microsoft, such as CPUs with clock speeds of more than 1GHz and hardware-accelerated graphics. However, Windows 8 functionality may not be uniform across devices as each chip has its own advantage. For example, Nvidia's Tegra 3 is considered to be better on graphics, while Qualcomm may have an advantage on connectivity with GPS and integrated multimode 3G/4G in S4.

The inclusion of multiple chip makers brings "diversity of different products built on ARM to the market," said Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft, in a blog entry earlier this month related to Windows on ARM.

Windows 8 was re-engineered for ARM devices, which are always-on and power efficient, Sinofsky wrote. Features such as connectivity and standby had to be redesigned and source code had to be rewritten to work with the new instruction set.

Microsoft will also include new versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- collectively called Office 15 -- in Windows 8 on ARM. The applications have been "significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption," Sinofsky wrote.

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