It was an inevitable move for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT): To compete with Apple and Google, Windows would have to support ARM (Nasdaq: ARMH), an architecture that reaches now more than 1 billion devices every quarter. It's not just Wintel anymore. Its Winarm now as well.

In the end, Microsoft does not, as speculated, preview Windows 8 at CES 2011. However, the company showed the next version of Windows running on a handful of prototype computers using the Windows 7 interface. What made the demo special is that it was the first demonstration of Windows SoC support.

According to Microsoft, the next version of Windows will support SoCs, which includes Intel's Moorestown class of integrated processors, but also ARM architecture. CEO Steve Ballmer and corporate vice president Michael Angiulo showcased an Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) SoC system, but also an experimental Qualcomm Snapdragon platform, a Texas Instruments OMAP platform as well as an Nvidia Tegra 2 system running the next version of Windows. It was a very brief demo, but showed that these ARM systems already include critical drivers such as printer interfaces as well as HD video playback capability.

For Microsoft, it is an important step to extend Windows to consumer electronics and platform that are used in non-PC devices or upcoming PCs that do not use x86 architecture. Intel may have looked into platforms other than Windows as well (MeeGo, Android), but Microsoft's support for ARM and the expansion beyond x86 is a critical move that will cut into Intel's business sooner or later -- if Windows on ARM will be successful.

Right now, however, Intel and AMD have a big advantage. According to Angiulo, current Windows apps are compatible with this next generation Windows SoC version, which can run on computers with a motherboard that is smaller than the palm of an average hand. Angiulo did not discuss apps for Windows on ARM, but his choice of words indicated that today's Windows apps will need substantial recompiling before they can run ARM systems.

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