Microsoft lends Windows on Arm a hand with emulation layer to finally run 64-bit x86 apps at last

News from the Department of Wait, It Didn't Already Do That?

Microsoft says it will start to bring 64-bit x86 emulation to Windows on Arm, allowing x64 applications to run on Arm-powered Windows 10 laptops, fondleslabs, and other computers.

Er, doesn't it do that already? No, so far Windows on Arm only runs 32-bit x86 code on emulation as well as 64-bit and 32-bit Arm code natively. From November, starting with Windows Insider builds, x64 emulation is coming to Windows on Arm, allowing a far greater range of software to run on Arm-based Windows gear, such as Qualcomm-powered slabtops. This emulation is apparently coming to all capable Windows on Arm devices; it's not reserved for future top-end gear.

For what it's worth, Microsoft had already ported its Chromium-based Edge browser to 64-bit Arm as a native application, though not Office, which runs as a 32-bit x86 suite on emulation. The software goliath right now has an FAQ about Windows 10 on Arm on its website, which informs owners of Arm gear that they'll "need 64-bit (ARM64) apps, 32-bit (ARM32) apps, or 32-bit (x86) apps. You can usually find 32-bit (x86) versions of apps, but some app developers only offer 64-bit (x64) apps."

"You can install 32-bit (x86), 32-bit (ARM32), and 64-bit (ARM64) Windows apps that aren’t available in the Microsoft Store in Windows," it adds. "64-bit (x64) apps won't run." Well, that's about to change.

Chief Product Officer Panos Panay mentioned the development on Wednesday after talking up an improved version of Edge for Arm systems chips that's kinder to batteries and CPU cores.

Microsoft's Surface Pro X

Visual Studio Code finally arrives on ARM64 Windows. No, you haven't woken up in 2017, sadly. It's still 2020


"We will also expand support for running x64 apps, with x64 emulation starting to roll out to the Windows Insider Program in November," said Panay. "Because developers asked, Visual Studio Code has also been updated and optimized for Windows 10 on Arm."

The Visual Studio Code improvements were not unexpected, given Microsoft's previous promises to get the programming toolkit optimized for the Arm architecture.

The addition of 64-bit x86 Windows program support is an important step in getting enterprises, for one, to adopt Windows Arm devices, knowing that their applications – bought in and home-grown – will be able to run, fingers crossed. It also means folks who snubbed the platform because their favorite apps, available only as 64-bit x86 executables, couldn't run may now consider an Arm-centered Windows.

Redmond reminded us Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung are among those building Arm-based Windows PCs, and there's also the Arm-powered entries in the Microsoft Surface family. That's not to say that Microsoft has lost all love for its long-time partner Intel. In announcing the addition of x64 emulation, Redmond also made a point of talking up hardware powered by silicon from Chipzilla and its plucky antitrust shield AMD.

"Our company mission, to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, drives us," said Panay. "It reminds us that there isn’t one PC that will work for all — offering choice is critical."

He added that the number of Windows 10 devices active each month continues to "grow by double digits year on year."

"We are humbled by the role our technology and Windows continue to play in people’s lives," he said. "It’s critical that we meet people where they are today and help them get to where they want to be in the future and that’s why we continue to push forward and invest in Windows." ®


Some may say it's no coincidence that Microsoft is offering x64 emulation from November because a load of x86-related patents are said to expire this year. However, the situation is not that simple as there has been and continues to be a stream of new patents filed or approved covering the architecture. Therefore, as some of the paperwork expires, other aspects of the architecture – particularly the bits relevant to today – remain protected.

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