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How Arm and Microsoft are Building the Future of Laptop Computing

From innovative hardware to native app development and momentum in the Windows on Arm ecosystem, here's how the Arm-Microsoft partnership continues to grow.
By Marcus Perryman, Principal Software Engineering Manager, Microsoft

The strength of the Arm-Microsoft partnership follows nearly a decade of work between the two companies to create building blocks for new and innovative hardware designs, underpinned by a thriving software ecosystem that continues to deliver exciting PC and laptop devices. Today there is consensus that Windows on Arm (WoA) is fully ready for prime time, helping to drive innovation across the PC market and redefining user experiences in the age of AI.

The upcoming Microsoft Build 2024 event will highlight the range of developments over the past year to advance hardware and software, as Windows on Arm becomes a more mature, established platform for OEMs, developers and, ultimately, end users. The event will also feature a breakout session introducing the next generation of Windows on Arm, as Arm and Microsoft continue to build the future of laptop computing.

The hardware

Arm and Microsoft have a long-standing relationship that exists across multiple technology markets, including servers and IoT. Our partnership in the PC space was re-energized in 2017 with the launch of Windows 10 on Arm, which was built for Arm’s 64-bit architecture and the first generation of Windows laptop devices powered by Arm-based silicon.

This culminated in the range of impressive Windows on Arm hardware available today, including the amazing Lenovo ThinkPad X13s laptop. The value of building these devices on Arm is the impressive performance features, like multi-day battery life and instant-on, as well as enabling slim-form factor designs that showcase a mobile-like experience. From personal experience, I can say that the hardware combined with Windows is a truly outstanding experience, but it needs a rich supporting ecosystem of apps to turn these great device features into awe-inspiring and relevant experiences for the wide range of Windows users.

Native app development

Native application builds for Windows on Arm were accelerated with the launch of Microsoft’s Windows Dev Kit 2023. This is an Arm-powered device offered by Microsoft to Windows developers specifically for native application development. Windows Dev Kit 2023 is a big deal for the Windows on Arm ecosystem, as it allows developers to address the entire application development lifecycle with one dedicated device for both the inner developer loop, as well as testing and deployment. The push for native app development for Windows on Arm was also broadened through the availability of Azure Arm-based virtual machines (VMs). This allows developers to build and run the vast majority of their Windows on Arm workloads in the Azure cloud, supported by Arm-based servers running Windows, to deliver continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD).

Alongside the Windows Dev Kit 2023 and Azure announcements, Microsoft also brought the complete Arm-native toolchain and integrated development environments (IDEs) to the Windows ecosystem, so developers can build on Arm, for Arm. These toolchain components included full Visual Studio 2022, Visual Studio Code, Visual C++, Modern .NET 5.8 (and beyond – 6, 7 and 8), Classic .NET Framework, Java, Windows Terminal, and WSL2 for running Linux and Android applications. Moreover, Linux and Windows can both run in VMs on Windows on Arm PC and laptop devices.

By unlocking CI and CD on Windows on Arm for the very first time, we enabled open-source projects such as Python, CMake and Node to target Windows on Arm natively. The Windows on Arm ecosystem has a growing open-source community that is innovating at a rapid scale, and supporting popular compilers, tools, libraries. This was accelerated by the formation of a Windows on Arm working group established within Linaro several years ago, supported by Arm, Microsoft and Qualcomm, which has been very successful in supporting and driving the open-source community work, as well as continuing to expand and unlock new ecosystem improvements. A variety of applications and tools that are hugely popular with software developer communities are being enabled following this open-source work, including Bazel, CMake, LLVM, OpenVPN, Python and Qt, to name a few.

Leading application vendors target Windows on Arm

All this groundwork has enabled leading application vendors to provide native Arm builds of their Windows applications for the very first time. Adobe Photoshop, Brave browser, Dropbox, Firefox, Goodnotes, Microsoft Office, Teams, Edge, Reincubate Camo, Spotify and Visual Studio have all released native Arm builds over the past few years.

Leading app developers are excited by the potential opportunities with Windows on Arm, and AI advantages enabled by the combination of the Windows OS and outstanding hardware acceleration. Arm native builds maximize the performance of applications on Arm hardware, including smoother performance, longer battery life and access to AI acceleration, that positively impact the overall app experience. In the case of Spotify, bringing Arm native support to its Windows application improved app startup times by 7-10x. This is just one example showing investments in Windows on Arm translating into tangible application improvements.

Chrome for Windows on Arm

Momentum for the platform is not slowing down. Recently, Google announced the release of an Arm native version of its Chrome browser for Windows on Arm, which means Windows customers have access to full Arm-native performance with Chrome. Behind this announcement is the work delivered through the partnership of Arm and Microsoft to enable the Arm-native Chromium project builds. From that work, other Chromium-based technologies have benefitted, such as Electron for cross-platform applications and CEF, to effortlessly embed web platform functionality.

Looking to the future

Looking ahead, Arm and Microsoft are continuing to work together to enable more outstanding experiences with Windows on Arm powered hardware, bringing greater performance, efficiency and brand-new interaction capabilities powered by the latest in AI acceleration. Arm-native Windows applications can more readily access the efficiencies offered by the Arm-based silicon, meaning AI experiences can run more efficiently on Windows on Arm devices, and both Arm and Microsoft are working to drive edge AI workload optimizations to save compute costs and provide richer customer value on Windows on Arm.

A mature platform ready for the world

Thanks to the Arm-Microsoft partnership and our ongoing work across the ecosystem, Windows on Arm is now truly ready for OEMs, developers and Windows users. The hardware is ready. The developer tools are ready. The ecosystem is ready. Leading applications are ready. The scene is set for transformative PC experiences built on and for Windows on Arm, including new and advanced AI workloads. Our message is to jump in and take a Windows on Arm device for a spin. You won’t regret it!

Visit Arm at Microsoft Build

At Microsoft Build you can learn more about the Arm Microsoft partnership and our commitment to Windows developers and the growing Windows on Arm software ecosystem.

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