This week, Microsoft announced a new initiative with Qualcomm aimed at bringing full 32-bit Win32 compatibility to ARM devices running Windows 10 in 2017. It’s a significant change from the company’s previous ARM strategy, and it could finally clear the way for the kind of cross-platform compatibility that Microsoft promised (but didn’t actually deliver) when it launched Windows RT back in 2012.
It’s always surprised me how quickly the market turned on Microsoft over the question of ARM support. In 2011, when Microsoft first began talking about Windows on ARM, it was hailed as making a smart move that would protect its own future. ARM hardware was tearing up the smartphone world, Intel didn’t have any equivalent SoCs for x86 systems to push into tablets or smartphones, and Microsoft’s Windows monopoly seemed in serious jeopardy. A Windows-based ARM tablet or notebook seemed a smart way for Microsoft to build a bridge to these product segments, and we saw prototype hardware from multiple companies (called “smartbooks”) in the run-up to Windows 8’s debut.