2022 has seen tremendous momentum across the Windows on Arm (WoA) ecosystem. Whether it’s an increasing number of new applications, developer kits and tools, or devices, WoA is gathering pace and looks set to become a true disruptive force in the global laptop market.
A growing WoA application ecosystem
The WoA application ecosystem is growing, with a variety of leading applications now available natively on WoA devices. These vary from productivity and connectivity applications like Zoom, Facebook Messenger and the Office 365 suite, through to video streaming and gaming applications like Netflix, Amazon Prime and the Xbox app. A suite of Adobe applications is also available natively on WoA, including Photoshop, Lightroom and, more recently announced, Fresco and Acrobat. After being ported to ARM64, all these provide high-quality Windows experiences whether it’s for work or play.
Developers are targeting their applications for WoA for two reasons. Firstly, there have been significant improvements in the consistency and performance of WoA devices. Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 9 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad X13s brought to the market the highest performing WoA devices to date, while older models like the Lenovo Yoga 5G, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Samsung Galaxy Book S and HP Elite Folio continue to champion their reputation as versatile, connected devices. WoA hardware is continuing to improve, with device manufacturers and Microsoft committed to investment in this area. Secondly, an increasing variety of tools and support available for developers has brought forward a seamless application development process for WoA. As a result, developers are embracing WoA, believing it’s a platform with enormous potential to transform the laptop computing landscape.
A seamless developer experience
2022 saw a series of announcements to transform the developer experience for those targeting WoA devices. At Microsoft’s Build 22 event in May 2022 “Project Volterra” was announced as the code name for Microsoft’s first ever WoA developer kit. Its availability to developers was then announced in October by Pavan Davuluri, Corporate Vice President within Microsoft’s Windows and Devices engineering organization, as part of Mark Hambleton’s Arm DevSummit keynote. Project Volterra, released as “Windows Dev Kit 2023”, allows developers to bring their entire app development process onto one dedicated, compact device, which means they can develop and test with the resources and specifications needed, before rolling out their applications across WoA devices. As Microsoft’s announcement says, this gives developers “everything they need to build Windows applications for Arm, on Arm.”
The Windows Dev Kit 2023 announcement was supported by the availability of a new comprehensive Arm-native developer toolchain earlier in 2022, which now includes Microsoft Visual Studio 2022. More recently, Microsoft announced the general availability of ARM64EC for Windows 11, which allows developers to build applications for WoA devices with a combination of x64 and ARM code, bringing performance that is close to native applications with less development effort.
Additionally, WoA has a vibrant open-source community. Many WoA ecosystem partners are contributing as part of this community through enabling more Arm-based tools, libraries and frameworks to further encourage app developers to build, compile, test and maintain native applications with minimal engineering effort. Linaro, the open-source organization which currently maintains and collaborates on over 40 projects, maintains a Windows working group which supports and enables commonly used tools and packages for WoA, such as Electron, CEF, LLVM, Qt for Windows, Python and Bazel for WoA.
With more native libraries, tools and hardware for WoA app development now available, porting to native Windows 10 or 11 for Arm is, firstly, easier than ever before, with cross-compiling and targeting no longer needed, and, secondly, a more enticing prospect for developers due to the higher application performance.
Positive developer attitudes
From Arm’s joint survey with Microsoft, we know that Windows developers are enthused about the potential of WoA and want to start developing for these devices. In terms of market potential, half of all survey respondents believed that WoA will constitute 24 percent or more of the PC market in the next five years. If this plays out, it will represent one of the largest shifts in PC architecture in decades.
However, the survey also revealed a demand for more dedicated hardware, tools and then greater access to these hardware and tools. Just over half of respondents stating that the availability of relevant ‘hardware and libraries/ frameworks/ runtimes/ tools’ is a big challenge in supporting WoA and their applications. Tools are vital for developers looking to add WoA support to their applications. Developers often use the tools, compilers, and frameworks they are most accustomed to and simply select WoA as the target. The WoA announcements throughout 2022 demonstrate that Microsoft is listening and looking to address challenges noted in the survey through the availability of further tool and feature support.
The latest devices
New WoA devices continue to push the boundaries of laptop computing. Lenovo launched its first ever workplace and enterprise focused WoA ThinkPad, the X13s. The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 acts as a personal device with 2-in-1 laptop and tablet flexibility. The various benefits of these WoA devices, such as all-day battery life, instant on, always connected and thermal efficiency, remain big draws for users, but also for developers looking to target their applications on the latest Windows devices.
Going back to the developer survey, when asking why developers would want their applications to support WoA, the performance of their application on the device was a stand-out reason, with 71 percent of respondents selecting this option. This was closely followed by the device size (38 percent), with developers responding well to the sleek, slim, and lightweight form factors enabled by the thermal efficiency of WoA devices.
Great momentum leading into 2023
We are seeing plenty of excitement for WoA across the ecosystem, particularly from developers. With the recent wave of announcements from Microsoft and leading application companies targeting WoA, we are confident that this momentum will continue to build. Application developers are showcasing the positive outcomes from natively targeting WoA devices – an uncomplicated development process that leads to great application performance on best-in-class devices that are the future of the laptop market.
Now is the perfect time for developers to look at building their Windows applications on Arm. With so many resources, hardware, and tools available, it’s never been easier to make the leap to WoA. The future of laptop computing is one that is built on Arm.