If you use Apple Silicon Macs, there’s a slightly improved chance you may soon be able to run a licensed version of Windows on your machines, as an Arm-exclusive deal between Microsoft and Qualcomm seems set to expire.
Qualcomm has a key
XDA-Developers tells us Qualcomm holds an exclusive arrangement with Microsoft to provide the processors to drive Windows on Arm. That’s why you find Qualcomm’s chips inside Windows for Arm devices, and don’t find processors from anyone else.
The report claims this deal will expire soon, which means MediaTek, Samsung, and others may begin to manufacture Arm-based chips for Windows — and may also give Mac users a chance to run Windows on M-series Macs.
There is certainly a chance this won’t happen. Microsoft recently suggested an Arm version of Windows 11 for Apple Silicon is not “a supported scenario” – but things do change in tech.
Why it matters
Apple’s Mac sales continue to grow across most enterprise markets, but at present the M-series Macs have no official Windows support. All the same, we have known they can run Windows on Arm insider builds using virtualization tools such as Parallels. Beyond that, other than using Windows 365, there has been no official, fully-supported way to run Windows on an M-series Mac — you don’t even get Boot Camp.
Most Mac users — and Parallels — had been hoping Microsoft would simply offer up Windows for Arm licenses for sale, enabling businesses using multiple computing platforms to run Windows, iOS, and Mac apps on a single machine.
Microsoft has never given us much hope of this, and I think many industry watchers had begun to give up on the idea. But for many enterprises, the ability to run Windows in some way is an essential requirement, particularly for businesses still reliant on legacy systems for some tasks.
A stumbling block
One thing that might be in the way is Nvidia’s ongoing attempt to acquire Arm from Softbank. This attempt is currently being investigated by the UK Competition & Markets Authority. (They are concerned the deal would give Nvidia too much power in the growing number of markets that rely on Arm reference designs.)
We won’t know the conclusions of this investigation until 2022. But it’s a decision that will have far-reaching industry consequences, given we are the cusp of massive Arm adoption.
Where the industry is going
Apple has been working with Arm to develop its chips since 2014, when it introduced the A4 processor inside iPhone 4. Since then, the company’s decision to develop its own processors has paid dividends. Mac users upgrading to an M-series system seem thrilled with the performance and capability of these machines. Apple devices sit at or near the top of most benchmark charts in each category and competitors in the same class now seem to be running at best one year behind.
Apple has blazed a trail — and as usual in time-honored fashion, competitors want to follow that path, too. Most recently, Qualcomm announced plans to manufacture Apple M1-competitive silicon by 2023 with help from former Apple silicon team developers from Nuvia, which it acquired earlier this year.
What comes next?
XDA-Developers isn’t clear about when the Qualcomm deal will expire, but things could get more interesting when it does. Not only might we see a rash of faster PCs running Arm chips and Windows, but we may also see Microsoft’s OS appear on M-series Macs.