Microsoft chances its ARM

Stephen Pritchard

Microsoft might not be the all-conquering force it once was in the IT industry, but the software maker still has the ability to move markets. Its announcement - at the CES trade show of a version of Windows for ARM-based devices pushed shares in the UK-based chip designer and helped to keep the FTSE 100 index above the psychologically important 6,000 mark.

Steve Ballmer's announcement has given ARM shareholders a pleasant start to the New Year, and sees Microsoft shifting further away from Intel in the key growth markets of mobile phones and tablets.

For business users, who is working with who will matter less than the devices that result from the industry's shifting alliances. One reason Microsoft is keen on working with ARM, analysts say, is the chip-designer's prowess in developing technology for lower-powered devices. Although Intel's low-power chip designs are improving, ARM still maintains a lead.

Battery life is certainly one of the most important features for business-focused mobile devices, as the competition for electrical sockets in airport lounges, railway stations and even coffee bars shows. The iPad, for all its polished looks and slick interface, is selling well at least in part because its battery life is better than many of its rivals.

But nor is power consumption everything. Attempts to shoehorn Windows on to mobile devices have been hampered by more than just battery life. Windows Phone 7 is a smart-looking operating system, but speak to mobile retailers and they will report that they are selling far more BlackBerries, iPhones and especially, Android devices than Windows. And a proper Windows tablet has been so long coming that most would-be users have all but given up hope.