Microsoft made a big boast about revolutionizing computing with a new breed of devices running Windows on ARM, specifically Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips. While the hardware by itself may be commendable, especially for power-efficiency, Microsoft once again oversold the software story. Not only was the initial Windows experience slow and disappointing, the number of popular Windows software you could run was also extremely limited. Fortunately, that number may skyrocket with x64 software emulation coming in November, at least for brave Insiders.
As with Apple’s new Silicon, the switch from x86 chips to ARM-based processors won’t be a smooth journey. At the very least, software has to be rebuilt to support the new CPU, which, depending on the tools made available to developers, may not be so straightforward. A stopgap measure is to have some emulation layer that will let x86 or x64 apps run unchanged on ARM.
Unfortunately, Microsoft’s Windows on ARM initiative fell short in both scenarios. The set of native Windows on ARM apps, which would have needed to be written using Microsoft UWP framework, was just too small to be worthwhile. And while there was an x86 emulation feature, most of the notable Windows programs have already moved over to the x64 (or x86_64) architecture.
Microsoft is now announcing that x64 emulation will be arriving on the Windows Insider Program in November. In theory, this means that Windows 10 on ARM devices will be able to run almost any win32 software out there. There will definitely be a performance hit but the real question is whether that will at least be bearable.
Unfortunately, there are very few Windows 10 on ARM devices it can be tested on and Qualcomm and Microsoft haven’t announced any new hardware taking advantage of that new Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 announced earlier this month. That said, there are rumors of a new Surface Pro X coming and this announcement could be setting the stage for its debut.