Microsoft to Hand Out ARM Chip Test Machines in Windows 8 Push

Microsoft Corp. will begin handing out test versions of Windows 8 computers running chips with ARM Holdings Plc’s technology, part of its push to release devices that can compete with Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet.

Microsoft wants ARM-based devices to go on sale at the same time as computers sporting chips from Intel Corp. The ARM-based test computers, featuring chips made by Qualcomm Inc., Texas Instruments Inc. and Nvidia Corp., will go to partners and software developers in the next several weeks, Microsoft Windows President Steven Sinofsky said in an interview.

The first broadly available test version of Windows 8 will be distributed Feb. 29, and Microsoft has so far only provided developers with machines running Intel’s chips. Because the company also wants the next version of its operating system to gain a foothold in the tablet-computer market dominated by ARM-based machines like the iPad, it’s important for Microsoft to have an ARM product available quickly.

Microsoft’s Windows unit is releasing a personal-computer operating system for the first time that runs on ARM chips. Previous versions of Windows for PCs have run on x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Still, Microsoft should be able to get ARM-based products in stores at the same time, Sinofsky said, while declining to comment on when the products will be released.

Release Target

“Our collective goal is for them to ship at the same time as PCs with Windows 8 on x86,” he said. “I wouldn’t be saying it’s a goal if I didn’t think we could do it.”

Sinofsky will discuss Microsoft’s efforts to release Windows with ARM technology in an approximately 8,000-word blog post today.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, will start to distribute thousands of the test machines around the same time it unveils the Windows 8 Consumer Preview at a mobile conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Revenue from Windows software, which runs most of the world’s PCs, has missed analysts’ estimates in four of the past five quarters, in part because some consumers are defecting from laptops with Windows to tablets like the iPad. Microsoft probably won’t be able to significantly change that trend until Windows 8 goes on sale, Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein said in an interview last month.

Preinstalled Software

Windows on ARM will only be sold preinstalled on computers and all applications and updates for the product will be distributed through the Windows apps store only, Sinofsky said. That’s different from the x86 version, which will also be available for purchase separately from the hardware.

That lets Microsoft closely control how the ARM machines run and ensure that everything works -- akin to other electronics, such as TV set-top boxes and game consoles, which are built and sold with hardware and software in the same package.

Microsoft will include versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the OneNote note-taking application on the Windows on ARM devices, Sinofsky said.

As with x86 machines, Windows 8 on ARM will let users choose either the new Metro design, which features tiles that update with new information, or revert to the current Windows design, Sinofsky said. Unlike x86, the ARM machines won’t be able to run older applications such as those written for the current version of Windows, he said.

“If you are a customer, whether an enterprise or an individual, and there is an existing Windows program you absolutely have to run, you’ll be best served by a PC with one of the Intel or AMD chips that can run that software,” he said.

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