After years of stagnation and barely sketched initiatives, the advent of Apple Silicon chips seems to have given Microsoft the courage to take the path of support for ARM processors without delay. On the one hand, there are big hardware ambitions, which will see Qualcomm launch the first products in 2023, and on the other, the first hints of really compelling software support, with apps capable of running natively. But the big news is the arrival of the ARM64EC, announced a year ago and now finally available to developers. ARM64EC is a platform that allows developers to gradually migrate their applications to ARM, with immediate performance benefits, as it offers a combination of natively executed ARM code and emulated x64 code. Concretely, an application can run natively on ARM code, while some extensions or specific functionalities can rely on x64 code executed via emulation. The end result is better app performance on Windows 11 on ARM devices and half the work of developers. In this way, Microsoft expects (or rather hopes) that more developers will be incentivized to bring their apps to ARM, as they will be able to migrate them gradually and see immediate feedback. The company explained the benefits of ARM64EC in a developer blog post when the feature was first announced.
With ARM64EC, you can choose to start small and build incrementally. You can identify a part of your code base that could take full advantage of native performance and rebuild it to ARM64EC. The rest of the application will remain fully functional via emulation, but recompiled ARM64EC parts will now have native speed. Over time, you can recompile more applications like ARM64EC to further improve performance and save battery life for your application clients.
Not only that, ARM64EC is also useful in situations where dependencies do not support ARM natively. In these cases, developers can now build ARM applications that use x64 dependencies. Will Microsoft be able to convince developers? Apple’s big job was to convince them that its ARM processors were the future and Intel’s products the past. Right now, the Windows world offers ARM devices like the rather niche and expensive Surface Pro X and Lenovo ThinkPad X13s in a sea of x86 products. Of course, many more will arrive in the near future, but the situation created by Apple will never materialize , which even in a year convinced to rewrite all its most important applications . Meanwhile, Microsoft has released a support document to help developers get started with ARM64EC, you never know someone will want to check it out.