Microsoft has signed a new licensing agreement for the ARM architecture, extending the two companies’ relationship that has already spanned 13 years. ARM’s major intellectual property is a 32-bit reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architecture that is commonly used in embedded and mobile processors.
ARM-based processors were most common in low power computing environments, and more powerful consumer computers used the x86 architecture. But as smartphones have become more powerful, and larger devices based on mobile operating systems are becoming more common, ARM is moving out of the low power sector and into the mass market.
In January, ABI Research senior analyst Jeff Orr predicted that ARM-based processors would begin to overtake x86 in the netbook, ultraportable, tablet, and convertible PC market this year. In 2009, nearly 90% of devices in this category had processors using the x86 architecture.
Certainly, the “pad craze” has a lot to do with this shift. The Apple iPad’s A4 processor is indeed ARM-based, and current speculation is that HP’s acquisition of Palm may yield an enterprise-facing WebOS tablet in Fall 2010.
Microsoft’s principal offerings that utilize the ARM architecture are Windows Embedded CE and Windows Mobile/Phone, and it hasn’t made any major moves extending these into the netbook and tablet space.
“Microsoft is an important member of the ARM ecosystem, and has been for many years,” Mike Muller, CTO of ARM said in a prepared statement. “With this architecture license, Microsoft will be at the forefront of applying and working with ARM technology in concert with a broad range of businesses addressing multiple application areas.”
The details of the agreement were not disclosed today.