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Windows on ARM chips


December 24 2010

Every couple of decades, Microsoft ports Windows to some non-x86 chip. The port always ends up with a small userbase, not many applications are ported to it (we’re lucky if Microsoft Office gets ported to it), and Microsoft finally stops supporting the ISA (chip) in question. This happened with NT for Alpha, MIPS, and PowerPC in the 1990s. This happened with the Itanium port of Windows (notably, Windows server 2003) in the first 2000s decade.

So, when I saw rumors of there being an ARM port of Windows 8, I was not too excited. Windows is intertwined with the x86 architecture; the reason I like Windows is because it runs TextMaker 2006, Sun (sorry, I meant Oracle) VirtualBox, C-evo, Skype, Firefox + Flash + PDF reader + Java, The Gimp, Doom, Battle for Wesnoth, Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, as well as Heroes of Might and Magic III.

Now, some of these applications could be ported to the ARM. The open source ones written in C (Gimp, Doom, Wesnoth, Firefox, Battle for Wesnoth, and to some extent VirtualBox) may need little more than a recompile to run. There’s a reasonably good chance Skype will port their software to Windows 8/ARM. Flash will probably get ported, and if Adobe doesn’t port their PDF reader, there are free PDF readers that could be used instead. Oracle may (or may not) port Java to Windows/ARM.

TextMaker Office will undoubtedly get ported to Windows/ARM, but I will have to purchase the software (TextMaker 2006 is a “free beer” download to demo their more recent products). Forget about porting AoW: Shadow Magic or HOMM3.

C-evo would need a substantial rewrite before porting could even begin (first, it would have to be ported to Lazarus. Then Lazarus would have to be ported to Windows/ARM. Then finally C-evo’s source code could be looked at to fix issues caused by the ARM port). No, they are not going to make Delphi for ARM unless this thing really catches on (hint: No non-x86 Windows has ever caught on, and they’ve been trying it since the 1990s).

Windows for ARM? If this thing still exists in 10 years, I will be amazed.

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