While Google and Apple have managed to create a broad ecosystem for their mobile operating systems, Microsoft failed to popularize its mobile Windows efforts. Soon the software giant will fire another salvo by solving one of the big problems faced by today's Windows-based ARM devices.
Starting sometime in 2017, an ARM-based version of Windows 10 will arrive with the ability to run traditional x86 apps, giving the platform access to the millions of existing applications in the Windows world.
The Snapdragon 835 from Qualcomm will be the first SoC to support the new Windows 10 with x86 emulation and the first ARM-based Windows 10 notebooks are expected sometime in the second half of 2017. Emulation will ensure these devices can run anything from Office and Photoshop to video games like Crysis, the only catch is support will be limited to x86 win32 applications. There will be no 64-bit support, but that shouldn't be a deal-breaker for most people given the limited adoption of 64-bit apps.
“Think of it as the Windows 10 customers know,” explains Microsoft’s Windows and device chief, Terry Myerson, in an interview with The Verge. There will be support for peripherals, applications, and even enterprise capabilities. Microsoft isn’t detailing exactly how its emulation works, but developers won’t have to do anything special to get their apps to run on ARM chips. The regular MSI or EXE packages will work just like they do on machines with Intel chipsets. The differences will be largely in performance. Microsoft will be emulating the CPU instruction set, which means that any apps that are CPU heavy will still have greater performance on Intel-based machines. The rest of the I/O, like memory, storage, or graphics, will be intercepted by the emulator and handled natively by the operating system.
We'll have to wait until the availability to see if the performance is any good, but based on the video it seems OK. In the video, Microsoft explains they made zero changes the Windows 10, it runs perfect with full functionality thanks to the emulation. This is very interesting and means Intel and AMD can expect a lot of competition from the ARM ecosystem!