Microsoft just reveled that Windows 10 will be able to run a full desktop environment on ARM64 machines in the future update codenamed “Redstone 3”.This is not a big surprise after all, Microsoft works with ARM machines since earlier versions of Windows Embedded Compact (from which Windows Mobile bore), and with the less lucky and bad thought Windows RT. Moreover, Microsoft added more ARM64 developer in the last couple of Visual Studio releases, so this announce is not unexpected for developers.
The big news is that with Redstone 3 ARM64 devices will be able to run a full Win32 desktop environment, without any sort of padlock (like Windows RT had), and – and this is a big “and” – x86 Win32 applications too.
In a not so well defined emulation environment, Microsoft and Qualcomm just showed to the world the new Windows 10 ARM desktop environment capable of running traditional application historically bound to the x86 machines only, like Adobe Photoshop and the complete desktop version of Microsoft word: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_GlGglbu1U
Although amazing this announce is, we cannot halt asking ourselves how all this is made possible.
Until now, neither Microsoft nor Qualcomm have better specified what kind of technology is behind this emulation. This is an important detail, since it could establish any sort of limitations and performance issues all this technology is about.As for the Win32 desktop environment, this is not a big deal: the structure of the Windows API source code is made to support many architectures (not only x86 variants), and ARM is one of the supported.
What is interesting is the x86 emulation affair. First, it is not clear what kind of instruction sets (ia32 only – aka x86 32-bit extension – or x64 too – x86 64-bit extension) and what kind of SIMD (SSE, SSE2, …, AVX etc.) extensions are supported. This are meaningful details since better establish what x86 applications we would able to run on this new edition of Windows.Still speaking about the x86 emulation stuff, it is not clear what kind of emulation is it at all: a hardware emulation, a software emulation or a cloud-streaming-emulation? This is essential to understand the performance of this entire technology and could open other questions related to the x86 patents and licenses.
At the time of writing, we are not able to find any official details or specifications about this, however we made some observations:
First, the video shows the processor is not capable of any virtualization technology:
This could mean actually that build of Windows did not support any ARM virtualization at all (which is kind of strange because some ARM virtualization technologies are supported and used by other ARM Windows products), or – and this hypothesis looks more realistic to us – all this were running under a virtualized environment, probably using some kind of cloud or streaming service.
The second hypothesis get strengthened if we look at another recent product powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, the HP Elite X3 which brings advanced Continuum features on Windows 10 mobile.
Following this trail, all this x86 emulation affair could reveal a next advanced Continuum evolution, in an in-depth exclusive feature for the future Windows 10 running on ARM64 PCs, maybe powered by some sort of Windows Azure cloud/streaming subscription.
Pay attention on more Windows 10 on ARM PCs news in the next months.
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