Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) dropped a bit of a bombshell a few days ago. The company announced it was partnering with Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) to bring Windows 10 to devices running chips based on ARM Holdings processors. Yesterday, MSFT showed off Windows PC applications running on a QCOM Snapdragon CPU. Windows on ARM is no Windows RT and it’s about to make 2017 a very interesting year.
Windows RT was an attempt by Microsoft to port Windows functionality to ARM processors. As part of the company’s initial foray into tablets, Windows RT was used to power the cheaper, consumer-focused Surface RT.
The idea was that ARM-based CPUs — the processors used in smartphones and tablets like Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad– would let let Microsoft release tablets that were thinner and easier on batteries than ones running on Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) processors.
That logic made sense.
Those ARM processors, made by companies like Qualcomm, were designed for mobile devices. Size and power consumption were at the top of their priority list.
Unfortunately for MSFT, they lacked the power needed to run Windows in emulation. So the company hobbled together Windows RT, a Windows lookalike that ran apps, but not desktop Windows software. Needless to say, Windows RT was a confusing mess that almost killed Microsoft’s tablet ambitions.
But Windows on ARM is not Windows RT.
Windows on ARM: Running Desktop Windows 10 in Emulation
What Microsoft announced during an interview with The Verge is Windows 10 running in emulation on ARM chips designed by Qualcomm. That means the full desktop Windows 10 experience, including running standard desktop Windows software, on a mobile chip.
This isn’t theoretical, it’s actually working and it goes far beyond the Continuum feature MSFT introduced for Windows 10 Mobile. That essentially made Windows 10 mobile apps appear in a desktop configuration when a Windows phone was connected to an external monitor.
Yesterday, MSFT showed off the Windows 10 desktop versions of Microsoft Office and Adobe Systems Incorporated‘s (NASDAQ:ADBE) Photoshop running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor. That’s the same mobile CPU that powers popular smartphones like the Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) Galaxy S7. The company says the Windows 10 update incorporating ARM support will arrive sometime next year.
How MSFT Will Change the Game in 2017
Microsoft’s ability to offer the full Windows 10 PC experience — including support for Windows PC software — is going to have big ripple effects in 2017.