Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

Summary: Microsoft may have done an about-face and decided against offering the Desktop App and thus non-Metro-style apps, on Windows 8 ARM tablets.


Back in September, there was controversy as to whether Microsoft planned to allow "Desktop" (non-Metro) apps to run on Windows 8 ARM-based tablets. But I was told they would, and, indeed, the Softies and partners showed off the Desktop app on ARM tablets at the Build conference.

However, if my Windows Weekly co-host Paul Thurrott is right, Microsoft has rethought that plan and is leaning toward cutting the Desktop from Windows 8 ARM tablets. That would mean only Metro-style apps would be supported on that platform. (Thurrott just dropped that bomb while we were taping Windows Weekly on December 1.)

If Microsoft does do away with the Desktop App on ARM, it also would mean -- unless Microsoft also changes its strategy for x86/x64-based Windows 8 tablets -- that Windows 8 will be different on different hardware. The Developer Preview Samsung tablets Microsoft gave to attendees of its Build conference include the Desktop app, which allows non-Metro, legacy apps to work on these machines.

I don't hate the idea that Microsoft might pull the plug on the Desktop App on Windows 8 ARM tablets. In fact, I think it's the right thing to do if Microsoft and its partners want to position ARM-based Windows tablets as more of a true iPad competitor.

Microsoft doesn't need to be all things to all people. Windows 8 is the first time Microsoft will have Windows running on ARM, so why not use that as a place to cut the cord and support only new "modern" apps on that platform? Even if Microsoft did go ahead with its plan to offer Desktop App on Windows 8 ARM tablets, it wouldn't run existing Windows x86/x64 apps. Developers still were going to have to rewrite them.

Thurrott didn’t know whether Microsoft still plans to support the Desktop App on ARM-based Windows 8 notebooks; his information was generically about ARM-based Windows 8 versions, which he took to mean "tablets." It's unclear if this refers to both tablets and notebooks.

I've asked Microsoft if the Windows team will confirm (or deny) Thurrott's report. No word back so far (and I'll be surprised if there is any update here).

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

    I would like to see the desktop app activated on ARM machines if and only if there is an external keyboard or mouse or a dock attached to it.
    • Hard to get Intel-based apps run on ARM processors

      "Hard" might not be the right word, "impossible" is more likely. It's completely different instruction set between Intel and ARM so I don't see how it could be done w/o re-writing the Intel-based APPs
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        @LBiege Then by what you're saying, it isn't impossible. I don't think the OP was excluding the fact that the apps needed to be rewritten, he was just saying the desktop app should be activated under those conditions. Whether or not there are apps available will be determined by the developers. If millions of ARM tablets start flying off the shelves, then you can bet the developers are going to make their apps work with them.
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        @LBiege Actually, being as they're both Turing complete, "impossible" is not the right word to use. Emulators and virtual machines have been converting between instruction sets for a long time.
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        In fact if the application is written in .net this is not necessary at all since the application will just need a .net framework for ARM on the tablet.
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        @LBiege Only assembly bits. If the Windows API is preserved, most code would just need to be ported a bit and recompiled with a compiled that spits ARM instead of x86. (assuming this is a real full fledged ARM Windows NT, not ARM Windows CE under the hood).
  • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

    So why corrupt the Desktop version with the touch Metro UI? Sinofsky and crew need to more reversals of direction lest Windows 8 be another Vista.
    • The same thing was said

      ...about XP before it shipped.

      Ditto for 95.

      There will always be heretics.

      If you want to 'wow' customers, you have to show them something new and radically different. People aren't impressed with slow, evolutionary updates. Anytime I show the YouTube video of the first Windows 8 demo on Microsoft's channel to a non-techie layman in my store, they think it looks incredible and want to know how soon it's coming out. The Start Menu/Taskbar will be an 18-year old UI design by the time Win8 ships. Computer users are ready for something newer and simpler.
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        Microsoft isn't going anywhere if they focus more on wowing customers than providing something useful.

        I love how Microsoft fanatics would go out and say how great the Win 7 UI was a year ago, but as soon as Ballmer tells them it's no good. All of a sudden it becomes a 18 year old UI.
      • No

        @anono<br><br>Just to clarify, I never said that Windows 7 was anything special. It's a bit of an improvement, yes, but hardly revolutionary. Like XP before it, it modified the general usage model of the Start Menu (in XP, it became task-based; in 7, the Taskbar deprecated the Start Menu), but the Start Menu and Taskbar have existed since Windows 95. You can't deny that. If you look at various operating systems, they all have some kind of omni-present menu bar with drop-down (or pull-up) menu lists to launch applications. Linux and OS X both do the same. In fact, OS X has numerous application launch methods. You have the Dock, but you also have Launchpad, which is a concept that dates back to the early days of OS UI design. Plus you have the Applications window, which is exactly like an old Program Manager group. Grids of static icons are passe. The OS X Dock, Windows 7 taskbar, and Unity dock are all the same. OS X's Launchpad (and iOS) is the same as Program Manager in Win1-3. The OS X menu and Gnome are the same. KDE and the Windows Start Menu are the same. There isn't anything unique....until you see Windows 8's Start Screen. The thing that you can say Windows 8 is close to, is having standard apps widget-ized, but even that's a stretch. Can you define it any better way by comparing it to something else that currently exists?
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?


        "There will always be heretics."

        What a disturbing phrase, makes you think of witch burning trials.
        Alan Smithie
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        Just because you are unique it doesn't mean you are useful.
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        Funny, this picture reminds me of the reality as it is today concerning Macs vs PCs...

        In a similar vein, just because the iWhatever is supposed to be magical, revolutionary, ground-breaking, and unique, doesn't mean it is truly useful in any practical way. Other than as a crutch to low-self-esteem syndrome and as an accessory fashion statement.

        Those who make their dress a principal part of themselves, will, in general, become of no more value than their dress.
        ~ William Hazlitt[/i]
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?


        I couldn't agree more with you. If Microsoft wants to impress us after many years of poor performance products/OS e.g. Windows 98, ME, Vista etc...... They should learn from Apple and be more innovative.

        I was tire with them and switched to Linux and Apple OS years ago and never regretted.
  • If not played right, this could be a marketing disaster

    Microsoft's marketing teams need to get very serious if this is going to be the case. I don't have any problem with them taking this route, they just need to make it clear to consumers what they are buying since the current landscape looks like they'll be x86 desktop, notebooks, and tablets. As well as, x86 and ARM notebooks and tablets. With the latter providing smaller form factors and longer battery life, but excluding support for classic Windows apps. What does this say about full-featured versions of Office for ARM tablets?
    • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

      @WixosTrix This could be like MIPS and PowerPC support in NT, a lot of noise but no real substance. MSFT would be much happier if the world left their "infatuation" with ARM and Intel jet delivered real low power chips that could run MSFT code. The bigger question is will Windows 8 be Longhorn/Vista (the last time MSFt tried to do a significant change to Windows or will this be something new and successful)?
  • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

    Mary Jo, I thought they said that a while ago when they announced the ARM verison of Win8 at the Build conference. Win8 for desktop (on x86) will run legacy, but the ARM based devices won't be able to. Technically, that makes perfect sense considering the new Metro apps will only run on WinRT (managed code.)
    • What they said at (and after) Build

      What they said at Build was that ARM tablets wouldn't run legacy apps without them being rewritten. But there still was supposed to be a Desktop app (ie, non Metro) environment on ARM tablets, giving devs a choice of doing Metro apps or non-Metro apps for ARM tablets. More here:

      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        @Mary Jo Foley <br><br>There's a difference between showing that they compiled the Windows stuff for ARM as a technical proof of concept and expect the mass market to support multiple CPU architectures for the same product.<br><br>This would end-up being a nightmare for software shops and time would likely eliminate one of them. Remember the early NT era.<br><br>Managed code in a highly sandboxed model like WinRT is proposing is a blessing for everybody. Well have two distincts ecosystems: Windows 8 and Metro. They could even be brought to market differently branded (which I hope). Thus,<br>-For x86/x64 desktops and tablets you have "Windows 8 with Metro"<br>-For ARM tablets and some x86/x64 tablets you have "Metro"<br><br>ARM based desktop are still far away and the upcoming AMD and Intel silicon roadmap will likely make them irrelevant.
      • RE: Microsoft to drop Desktop App from Windows 8 ARM tablets?

        @Mary Jo Foley, Some serious analysis: I believe that if they are not going to support Desktop apps on ARM, it could be an effort to release Windows 8 an earlier pace (before Q4 2012?) than originally planned - this would greatly help their perceived "lateness" to the tablet scene. If this is the reason, then I would also expect that they might add in Desktop app support in a service pack, maybe even later in 2012). This could be the reason we have been seeing reports of an early 2012 release of Windows 8.