Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

Summary: A new Microsoft blog post strongly implies that both Metro-style and Desktop apps will be supported on Windows 8 on ARM, as Microsoft originally promised.


This is kind of a back-handed way to confirm something, but that seems to be the way things work at Microsoft when it comes to Windows 8.

Late last year, there was a rumor that Microsoft had decided to drop the Desktop from Windows 8 on ARM. This would have meant, if true, that all Windows 8 ARM apps would have to be Metro-style applications. Metro-style applications are those which make use of the WinRT Windows 8 runtime/framework. (They also happen to adopt the "Metro" look and feel/design conventions, which confusingly are not known as "Metro-style." I guess they're just in the Metro style.)

(A related aside: I've seen a few bloggers posting recently that Microsoft execs said Desktop apps would never run on Windows 8 on ARM. That is untrue. Here's my post from last year explaining how this would work.)

When various Microsoft watchers, customers and partners asked Microsoft officials whether the "no Desktop on Windows 8 on ARM" rumors from last December were true, we received no official response. No confirmation. No denial. We asked again during the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2012. No confirmation, no denial.

On February 7 on the "Building Windows 8 blog," Microsoft execs posted on how apps will be able to leverage power-saving features that Microsoft is building to improve battery-life consumption on Windows 8 devices. Buried in that post, is a mention of SoC (system on a chip) devices. ARM-based tablets and PCs are considered SoC devices. (There will be Intel and AMD SoC devices, as well, we've heard.)

From today's post (with emphasis from me):

"(W)e’ve enabled a new smartphone-like power state for a new class of PCs that rarely get turned off completely.Typically based on “System on Chip” (SoC) architectures, these PCs are interesting because instead of turning off during periods of inactivity they go into a very low power state while still running. This new state is referred to as “connected standby.” This enables some great connected scenarios, such as always having email up-to-date, and being able to receive instant messages or phone calls, while still delivering amazing battery life. The chart below shows behavior for both desktop and Metro style apps during connected standby. For this to really work effectively though, we had to consider both Metro style apps (which, as you saw earlier, we can very effectively ensure are conservative with system resources), as well as desktop applications, which presented a tougher challenge because they have been designed over the years to expect either full access to system resources (when running in the fore or background) or no access (when the PC is asleep.)"

So it would seem from this paragraph -- given that it references "both desktop and Metro style apps" on SoC PCs -- that the Desktop remains on Windows 8 on ARM, after all.

Microsoft officials still aren't responding to questions as to whether this is the case. (I tried asking again.) But given how carefully crafted these few official posts about Windows 8 are, I am sure every word was examined multiple times before this was posted for any possible mistakes, not-yet-approved guidance, or potential newsy clues.

Some developers and users were very much in favor of the idea of Microsoft removing the desktop from Windows 8 ARM devices. Some were radically opposed. Whichever camp you're in, it looks like the Desktop remains.

Now, if we only had some inkling about rumors that Microsoft may have more restrictive certification rules for Desktop apps on ARM than for Desktop apps on Windows 8 x86 devices. (Actually, I'm leaning toward believing these, given that this information also was leaked at the same time as was information about Windows Phone 8 adopting the Windows core.) Here's what a Russian forum poster mentioned a couple of weeks ago on that front:

“WOA (Windows on ARM) platforms will require that all desktop binary images be signed with a trusted Microsoft certificate. Any unsigned code will fail to load … This … does not cover Metro Style applications for which there is a separately documented signing requirement and developer licensing”

As I noted before, I don't know anything about the source of this info, but the poster was right about the shared kernels in Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. So make of it what you will....

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Processors, Software


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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  • Actually, not it's still not cofirmed, just assumed

    AMD and Inetl SoC will likely be x86/x64, so having the Windows Desktop on them isn't a push at all. ARM of course is not, so if Microsoft is going ahead with the Windows Desktop on ARM, they are making a HUGE mistake. "Why can't I load XYZ app on the desktop? It works on my Windows 8 PC which has the same desktop."

    Of course it could come down to the fact that they just can't pull the desktop from ARM and meet the release date. What a lot of people miss is the fact that Windows NT4 Workstation ran on x86, MIPS, DEC Alpha and PowerPC. They all had the desktop, but good luck finding apps for anything other than x86. I think the same is going to be true of Windows 8 on ARM, but I really hope it doesn't turn into a "Vista" level relations debacle because that would be the second time Microsoft releases a new OS and gets burned by legacy components (lack of 3rd party drivers for Vista and now legacy apps on ARM)

    Of course we still really don't know for sure, do we?
    • If there was an exception for win 8 on ARM to SoC statements

      Hi. If that post included hair-splitting around which SoC they meant, I'd agree with you. It doesn't. As I note, every word of that post has been combed over. The failure to call out exceptions means it is all SoCs. I am 99.999% (five nines!) sure Desktop is on Win 8 on ARM after today's post. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

        @Mary Jo Foley
        You forget that Intel is rumoured to be eventually moving Atom to a SoC architecture. So, the blog post does not necessarily necessarily mean ARM (or only ARM).

        Also note that any ARM desktop apps (i.e., using Win32) will be recompiled apps for ARM, not emulated ones.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there


      ehmm you can say the same about what happens now with x86 and x64... some software are x64 only, like after effects, avid media composer 6, premiere... and what it does? it displays a message "you need Windows 64-bits to install this program"... so so i dont understand your point, when they try to install it, it will probably say the same "you cant install it you need to download ARM version" or when you run it "its not ARM compatible" or something like that...
      but you say it like if it doesn't already happened people downloading x64 software only and then not all their computers are 64 bits.
      Emi Cyberschreiber
      • I didn't forget about Intel moving to SoC

        Hi, @easson. I mentioned this in the post -- Intel and AMD also doing SoC. But if it were to be desktop only on THOSE SoC tablets, can you imagine the confusion? I believe MS' decision not to split hairs in this blog post today about SoC means Desktop is there for all SoC platforms. Thanks. MJ
        Mary Jo Foley
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

      @webdev511@... The reason apps weren't written is that there wasn't huge uptake on these alternate architectures. Microsoft is creating the ecosystem in advance. They will provide enough apps on their own to make the devices useful, if consumers buy them, more apps will follow. Besides, one of the main reasons that I am a fan of Windows is I find the development tools and the surrounding ecosystem second to none.
    • The Apps issue is a much smaller deal than it was in Alpha, etc.

      @webdev511@... since anything .NET based only needs to be recompiled to target MSIL instead of the processor.
  • Microsoft doesn't even know....

    This is the beginning of the end for Microsoft. X86 tablets already failed. Full blown Windows will lag on ARM. Metro simply won't fly any further than Metro on WP7.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

      @orandy Let me guess you just went to the future in your time machine and are returning with your findings! ;-)
      • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

        I agree with orandy, There's too many other OS's out there to muck up the techs already. Any attempts by MS to do anything other then fixing their busted virus prone registry system are going to fall flat after 7 64.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

      Lag??? Microsoft has demonstrated Windows 8 running on ARM tablets, and they run just fine.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there


      "X86 tablets already failed."

      Kinda, sorta. I can see them trying the x86 tablet again with Windows 8

      "Full blown Windows will lag on ARM."

      Unproven, and unprovable until more people have access to Windows 8 for ARM.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

      @orandy could not agree more. Windows 8 is just looking like a Frankenstein mess!

      When will Microsoft learn? I bet users can't wait to log into their Live/Office 365/Domain account! Their product line continues to confuse.
      • When will you learn? MS is making billions doing what they are doing!

        @JeveSobs "When will Microsoft learn?" That's not the question to ask of a company that has had the financial success that they have had. I have listened to people forecast MS doom for many years. I'm sure it will eventually come as I am sure that Apple and Google will eventually fail but they have had a long history of confounding the naysayers.
      • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there


        .......A Domain account is controlled by the place at which the user works... I believe the Office 365 account is integrated into either Live or the Domain account.

        Troll fail.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

      You must be some kinda genius to know all these answers without trying anything out. Bravo!
  • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

    It means more when Microsoft ships a native compiler that supports ARM too.<br><br>3 Feb 2012 <br>"This month, on the 20th anniversary of our first C++ compiler, we are looking forward to shipping the beta of Visual C++ 11. It includes support for ARM processors, Windows 8 tablet apps, C++ AMP for heterogeneous parallel computing, automatic parallelization, and the complete ISO C++11 standard library??? and a few more of the new C++11 language features too."<br><br><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a><br><br>Just don't expect to run x86 binaries on ARM, that's all.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

      @AndrewDover - Microsoft has a long history of shipping ARM compilers - first for WindowsCE, then for Zune (which is based on CE), then Windows Phone7 (which runs atom CE) and now Windows 8.

      In fact, the Win8 Dev Preview includes an ARM toolchain (compiler, linker, etc.) which I highlighted on my blog:

      Note that this isn't just about C/C++, but also .NET - Microsoft has to provide a JIT ARM compiler too. And if they're going to support VB6 runtime on ARM, they'll have to produce a VB6 ARM compiler too!
      Sgt. Colon
      • Return of ARM compilers to Visual Studio

        @Sgt. Colon,
        The long history of shipping ARM compilers stopped with VS2010. That is why VS11 indicates a significant change for the better.

        Nice blog, I'll keep an eye on it.
      • I seriously doubt VB6 will see the light of day on ARM

        @Sgt. Colon. As a former C/C++, VB6 programmer and now VB and C# .NET programmer, I hope VB6 doesn't show up on ARM. In its day it was fun language for quickly generating apps but it is just archaic now. I also suspect we won't see COM.