Microsoft joining Qualcomm and Google to bring Chrome to Windows on ARM

Enlarge / The Asus NovaGo is one of the first generation of Windows 10 on ARM systems, using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor.Asus

A couple of Microsoft engineers are contributing code to Google’s Chrome browser to help make it a native Windows on ARM application, as spotted by 9to5google. Windows 10 on ARM, Microsoft’s second attempt at creating a line of PCs that run on ARM processors, does something important that Windows RT, Microsoft’s first attempt, did not. It can run x86 programs in an emulator, greatly expanding the range of software that it can use.

But this has a performance penalty, so where possible, it’s better to have native ARM applications. One of the biggest sticking points here is Chrome; Google’s browser is the most widely used third-party application on Windows. While Chrome does of course run on ARM systems (both Android phones and Chrome OS laptops), it doesn’t currently compile properly as a Windows-on-ARM application.

The contributions made by the Microsoft developers are addressing these various issues–adding ARM64 build targets, specifying the right compilers and Windows SDK versions, providing alternatives to x86-specific code, and so on. Qualcomm also appears to be helping in this effort, with an executive saying last month that the company was working to bring a native ARM port to Windows. A true ARM version of Chrome for Windows would likely be advantageous for all three companies.

For Microsoft and Qualcomm, it makes Windows on ARM a more attractive option for buyers. For Google, it provides a hedge; currently the best browsing experience on ARM Windows is from Microsoft’s own Edge. While the deck is currently somewhat stacked against Windows on ARM taking any substantial market share–first-generation devices were broadly criticized for their poor performance–the future prospects are a little brighter, with faster systems due soon.

Ensuring that Chrome works on these machines means that there’s no chance that Google might get cut out of a new market segment.

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