Windows 8 On ARM: Desktop Is Go, Legacy Is No

Ever since Microsoft decided Windows 8 will support ARM-based CPUs, many wondered if that meant the traditional desktop experience would be supported as well. And if so, what about all the legacy apps developed for x86 CPUs? Windows 8 boss Steven Sinofsky has spoken. Yes, desktop mode is coming, but the old apps aren't.

In the midst of an epic meditation on the topic, Sinofsky explains that ARM-based devices will rely heavily on Metro-style apps (which is to say, those developed for WinRT), but will have optimised desktop versions of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer at launch. As for the old apps, here's why you won't be able to run them:

Previously we have detailed that WOA will not support any type of virtualization or emulation approach, and will not enable existing x86/64 applications to be ported or run. Supporting various forms of emulation runs counter to the goal of delivering a product that takes a modern approach to system reliability and predictability-by definition, existing code has not been optimised for the platform the way WOA has. Virtualized or emulated software will consume system resources, including battery life and CPU, at unacceptable levels. Emulation and virtualization of existing x86/64 software also require the traditional PC environment of mouse and keyboard, which is not a good assumption for WOA PCs.

Giz Au Editor's Note: It's only just occurred to me that Windows On Arm is WOA. Clearly, there's an advertising job just waiting for Keanu Reeves to scoop it up.




    That's disappointing news. Surely all that would be required though would be a recompile of x86 applications for the ARM architecture?

      Maybe that's what they're doing with Office and IE, so they're ready at launch?

      I don't know what's a recompile requires exactly, but it sounds a bit more involved than sticking in my Starcraft install disc and running Setup :--]

        Its not really more complicated than that, it can take a lot longer, though. It needs to be done by the software vendor, not by you and me. Its how source code becomes an application.

          If it is virtulised then for a standard user it would be seamless... but that would be taxing on the system.

          Nativly written/compiled apps wont have that issue and it sounds like they will work...

          Also, don't forget that most of the software programs are not only compiled for x86, but also have x86 specific machine code for optimisations. When porting, a x86 app must also translate the x86 machine code to ARM machine code. In some cases, this can be difficult due to the simple instruction set on ARM. But, it can always just be reversed to the original C code while losing the optimisations.

    Nothing about windows 8 sounds good to me.

      Then you must be listening to the wrong things, because my first-hand experience with it, having loaded the Dev Preview onto my own, non-touchscreen computer, has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm hoping a few clunky things are ironed out before it goes to public beta in a couple of weeks but even if they are not, I will be installing it on my main machine straight away, because the good outweighs the bad by an order of magnitude or so, even with just a mouse and keyboard.

      So what exactly sounds bad to you about it? The fact that it starts twice as fast? That it has half the number of processes running? That the horrible Start Menu has been ditched in favour of something much better? That it is far more optimised than any previous version of Windoze?

        +1 :)
        Same for me, what I'm really happy about though is that sometime soon I may be able to run 8 on my TF101 Transformer. Can't wait :)

    The worst thing about that screen shot is the fact that it has IE's icon in it. Let that ship sink!

      I used to think that way but I'm basically over it now. I think this is the last PC I will bother installing Firefox on. IE 9 is a pretty decent browser and I like the way it does some things. I'll miss some of the 3rd party add-ons but nothing of Firefox's core. I still find some sites that just won't work properly in Firefox that work perfectly in IE. At the end of the day, that's more important to me.

      Try running a javascript intensive website / web app on FireFox, Chrome and IE 10 preview! IE's javascript engine is kicking the shit out of Chrome & Firefox's.. and they actually get most of the W3C standards right these days.. actually not such a browser anymore.

      But yeah, death to IE6-8.

    i was looking forward to the day my fragmented world got bigger

    windows 8 for pc
    windows 8 for arm

    i really cant wait to see the spin they do on applications... its no longer a simple "download for windows" itll be soemthing like, "download for windows... you know, that version youve always used but on a completely different architecture that only geeks understand called ARM".

    hi mum!

      It hasn't been 'a simple “download for windows”' for years, since 64 bit. And with some device drivers there are half-a-dozen versions, stretching back to Win95. Its way past time MS decided to dump a lot of that legacy stuff in favour of performance. And the way apps download and install, which is what your mum will be interested in, will make it largely a non-issue anyway. She'll just go to the store and be presented with the apps that run on her machine.

        quite right, x64 has been a thorn in my side for a while, and the jump between systems has always negated a small drift away from legacy.

        and again, a very valid point that the store will remove the confusion for, and mostly, tablet users on arm architecture - too true

        but for me and others im sure, visiting a website like (for example), theres a version for windows, linux, mac etc... soon itll be, windows arm, windows x86, windows x64 etc... fragmentation of a large ecosystem is never a win

        it was easy for apple to jump from powerpc to x86 when they werent the market leader, but microsoft is going to suffer this time around i feel. the mums and dads who walk int to HN's looking for their next tablet and get sold on a windows tablet by a salesman who declares its windows, you could get a virus!! so theyll try and install some bs x86 norton of some sort, or expect their kids games to run etc.

        and that annoys me... id love to play my old x86 games on a newly invested windows tablet :(

    The question is - as a more 'casual' user - eg I don't really know how to make things work again if they break - should I download that beta of Windows 8 or wait for the public?

      The Dev Preview was easily the simplest OS install I've ever done. I later installed it over the top of Win7 on another machine with a touchscreen and that was even easier. I'm over the days of having to nurse my PC, I wouldn't be contemplating it if I thought it would be even a slight hassle. That's why I have never installed any OS X update - its just too scary.

        How is it hard or scary to install an OS X update?
        I really don't know where you're coming from with that. :/

          I know so many people who have had to reinstall applications after an OS X update that its not funny. One guy who got to a trade show and found out none of the software he was trying to sell would run on his hired Macs because they were on a slightly newer version - 10.25 v 10.23 or something. Another band we were touring with spent two full days trying to get their MBPros working after a mid-tour update (which typifies the ignorance/stupidity of the average Mac user - updating their OS mid tour for no good reason).

          I need to get work done on my Mac so once it is reasonably stable, I don't take any chances with it. Just last week there were reports of widespread problems with an OS X update on here.

    maybe virtualbox will launch a metro version of their software? Problem Solved?

    One of my main concerns with windows 8 is the apps/software. EG if vendors decide to make apps touchcentric for ARM and traditional for x86, what happens if you decide to buy something like the Lenovo Yoga? Will you end up with a less then optimal touch experience unless vendors create a third version of their apps?

      I've used Win7 with touch and its perfectly OK. I really don't see it as an issue.

    Whats this about mouse and Keyboard...

    There are apps for that

    Develop it, so the Touch screen and virtual keypad are ported for the x86 program....

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