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Microsoft plans to emulate x86 instructions on ARM chips

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November 22, 2016

We've learned today that Microsoft is planning to emulate x86 instructions on ARM chips. This will cause a compatibility lifeline to future Windows tablets and phones.

MS' so-called Cobalt Project should bear fruit within the next twelve months or so, when the Redstone 3 release of Windows 10 is due to arrive, Mary Jo Foley reports.

In a perfect world, Microsoft wants everyone to convert their old Windows applications to be UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps, which are adaptable to different input methods and display sizes.

So a phone or tablet could double up as an ad-hoc PC, for example. Or a UWP phone app becomes a desktop app when docked to a larger display and keyboard and mouse.

But it's important to note that a large proportion of common business apps will never be converted, hence the need to run legacy apps.

Intel dealt Microsoft's strategy a serious blow when it said it wouldn't announce any more new Atom smartphone chips until 5G came around.

Those chips support the x86/AMD64 instruction sets natively, and could have powered a Surface Phone.

An app developer found a reference to "CHPE" architectures as build targets in the header files of the SDK for Windows 10 build 14965.

Windows observers were puzzled when support for next year's flagship Qualcomm MSM-8998 processor (as yet unreleased) appeared, then suddenly disappeared from Windows builds.

Foley speculates that the Qualcomm part, most likely to be marketed as the Snapdragon 830, would contain hardware that better supports virtualization.

Without native emulation available, HP opted for a streaming solution for its major Continuum-based effort around the Elite x3, billed as a three-in-one for business.

For its part, Microsoft has to walk a very fine line, however. To be sure, Legacy x86/AMD64 apps aren't adaptable per se and are unsuited to mobile use, having been written for full-blown PCs, but they do provide users with what they need today, well somehow anyway.

Microsoft has already written a major Android emulation initiative for Windows 10, which allowed APK executables to run unmodified on Windows 10.

That was called Project Astoria and for a few surreal weeks, Android apps flooded onto Windows mobile via sideloading.

But fearing that would remove any incentive for developers to create UWP apps, Microsoft cancelled the project.

Source: Microsoft.


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