Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

Summary: Will Microsoft offer the Desktop App Win32 environment on Windows 8 on ARM? There's still no conclusive answer.


What's the latest word? Is the Win32 environment -- known as the Desktop App -- still part of Windows 8 on ARM? Or isn't it?

During the last Consumer Electronics Show (CES) keynote for Microsoft on January 9, company officials demonstrated Windows 8 on both Intel and ARM PCs.

The Desktop App, unsurprisingly, was still on whichever post-Developer Preview build of Windows 8 on the Intel-based Samsung tablet that Tami Reller, Microsoft's Chief Marketing Officer for Windows, demonstrated. But It also appeared -- at least from this screen shot taken last night by Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Andras Velvart -- that it also was part of the ARM version of Windows 8, too:

(Click on the image to enlarge.)

The Desktop App/environment is that icon that looks like a patch of blue sky toward the bottom right-hand side in the screenshot.

Here's the problem: We don't know whether the version on ARM that Reller showed off is new or old. Remember: At the Microsoft Build conference in September 2011, there were ARM tablets sporting the Desktop App, but they weren't available for testers to put through their paces. (Some were under glass, even.)

Texas Instruments also showed off yesterday at CES a Windows 8 ARM tablet prototype. As The Verge noted, it's still not clear even from that demo machine whether this is a newer or older Windows 8 build, so, again, it's inconclusive as to whether the Desktop App that is visible is going to be part of the final Windows 8 on ARM release.

The fact that Reller kept stressing during the Microsoft keynote last night that Windows 8 would be a "no compromise" experience -- Microsoft's preferred way of referring to its ability to support non-Metro-style apps -- makes me think there's a chance that the Desktop App will make it into the Windows 8 ARM build after all. But she never stated this outright.

There was talk late last year that the Windows team had decided to drop the Desktop App from Windows 8 on ARM. A number of users from whom I heard were in favor of such a move. But others weren't. Nor were a number of developers who are still hoping for a relatively easy way to get their existing apps onto Windows 8.

Would a simple "yes" or "no" be so hard? Maybe the Softies think the answer is obvious (?). Microsoft officials, when asked whether the Desktop App will or won't be supported on Windows 8 on ARM, aren't commenting.

The Windows 8 beta is still on for "late February," Reller reiterated during the CES keynote last night. And there's still no word from Microsoft officials as to the ship target for Windows 8 (though many company watchers still think it will be summer/fall this year for both the Intel and ARM versions).

Update: A couple of related posts worth highlighting:

Topics: Processors, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, 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: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

    Microsoft should just make ARM Desktop Environment an optional feature turned off by default on tablets. Beginners won't miss it since they use App Store. Advanced users can turn it on, but then be warned of limitations and power consequences.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

      it should be there fully functional w/o user action, otherwise that's the point of windows on a tablet, just use windows phone. if you don't use the desktop, unpin it. People forget MSFT has no gain from a desktop OS if it wasn't planning to have it on. The reason they didn't go for WP7 was because they felt an ipad me-too device won't sell. and they are right.
      • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

        @neonspark I agree. Without access to the desktop experience, it's not even worth owning a Windows 8 tablet. That was/is the appeal to me, being able to own a tablet that handles both apps and full fledged software competently.

        This article is news to me though... I thought it had already been confirmed that the experience would be the same across both ARM and x86 chips.... in fact, I thought I heard her say as much last night.
      • Don't see how Win32 Apps could run on ARMs.

        Win32 is for Intel CISC chips while ARM is RISK. I don't see how the Intel native apps could be recompiled and run on ARMs. Emulators are not an option either. The only thing could go across are .Net / Metro Apps.
      • My ADATA 596 has an ARM processor and it crashes everyday with 1st app.

        @ LBiege<br><br>" Yes I agree, every morning when I go to play my Win32 video game I go through a memory dump on Windows7. Where the display driver has failed; then a reboot and everything is fine till the next day. I leave my computer on all the time so it would happen even if I were to shut down."<br><br>" I don't use IE9 either because of constant freezes and black screens. The same goes for Firefox 8.0.1; I'm glad that Google Chrome has come through with no issues."
      • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

        @LBiege: Win32 is actually a pretty CPU & machine architecure agnostic API. Remember, Windows NT (upon which all versions of Windows since XP are based) was originally developed on MIPS, then ported to x86, PowerPC, Alpha, Itanium, x64 and now ARM.

        Most app code is platform agnostic in that it doesn't give a damn about what type of CPU it's running on. Unless a developer has a specific need to target x86/x64 features there's little reason why most C/C++ code can't be recompiled to target ARM.

        In fact, most native app source code is probably in a better state to port to ARM today than it was before the introduction of x64 which caused a number of apps to be scrubbed of many processor-specific bugs.

        In fact, the hardest thing about porting Windows to ARM isn't user-mode apps, it's the kernel and drivers. Now that it appears the OEM's are well down the path on completing this phase of the move to Win8, it'll soon be the job of app developers to start porting their apps to run on ARM powered devices.

        Oh ... and by the way ... it's RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer).
      • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

        @Zurk_Orkin: Perhaps you should spent a few moments to fix your PC - then you'd enjoy the trouble-free experience that the vast majority of us PC users enjoy these days.

        If your display driver is crashing regularly, causing a BSOD, then chances are you've either installed the wrong driver for your hardware, your driver is somehow corrupted, or your graphics card is faulty.

        If you're also seeing other graphically intensive apps crash regularly, especially those that employ graphics acceleration (that make demands of your graphics card and drivers), then you DEFINITELY need to fix the underlying issue.
      • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

        Average users will run into problems with desktop on ARM machines. Incompatibility with old x86 programs, power drain issues with legacy apps and malware threats. Why put novices in this position by default?
        Power users could just enable desktop in Control Panel on ARM tablet.
        If someone is very reliant on legacy apps, they should really buy an Intel Tablet instead of ARM.
  • What is that Library icon above the Desktop App

    It looks like there will be an easy way to access Windows Explorer through Metro if thats what it is.
  • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

    @Robert Hahn
    Given the horrible battery life of android devices and yet stellar sales, it is hard to see a downside to them just supporting it.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

      @neonspark The top-selling Android tablets get 10+ hours of battery life... so what horrible battery life are you referring to?

      Still, if I can get the full Win 8 experience with as little as 8 hrs of battery life... that'd still be worth it to me.
    • Right...


      ...until you use Flash.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

      Not all android devices have bad battery life if you know how to use them. I get 3 days constant use on my evo with calls text video streaming.My galaxy tab 7 inch gets 4 days with full usgage with no problem so thats not too bad.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

      @neonspark there is a downside: no desktop applications to-date will run on ARM. so you could go download all the 'for windows' apps you want but they won't work.
  • I'm not impressed by Intel's offerings

    @Robert Hahn

    Their low-power competitor to ARM is the Atom. The Core iX just doesn't have the power efficiency and low-cost necessary to compete. Power efficiency in the high-end, well yes, since ARM hasn't been shown to scale well. The other problem with Intel is multimedia. Their "HD Graphics" sucks. Sorry, but that's just a fact. GPU acceleration is going to drive performance on most WinRT apps, and ARM can't cut it there either (nothing has been said about how ARM will meet WinQual req'ts of a DX11 GPU, since current ARM GPU's are only designed to meet OpenGL ES 2.0 specs, or roughly equivalent to DX7). AMD is going to lead in that market here by offering better compatibility than ARM, and better value than Intel.

    I'll tell you one thing: Ultrabooks won't sell until they get the price down to under $600. Buyers have already got a taste of lower cost notebooks and they won't go back to paying $700-1000 for a starter laptop without decent graphics. If you can't play games on it (I'm presuming here - but just look at Intel's history in graphics, and it's pretty much a sure bet that game compatibility and performance is just not going to be there), it isn't worth that kind of money. If you can get a notebook for under $600 with an AMD DX11 GPU that has better performance than one that sells for $200+ more, and can play 3D games better, then people won't care about the form factor. Just to compare, Intel only uses about 5-10% of their silicon space for GPU cores. AMD uses 3x that in their APU's.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

      @Joe_Raby WRT Intel's integrated graphics:<br><br>Sure, Intel's graphics are weaker than dedicated GPU's from nVidia, AMD and the like, but that's about to change with the release of IvyBridge processors.<br><br>These new processors feature not only a die shrink to 22nm (offering up to double the performance per Watt), but also a huge increase in GPU performance. More details here: <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a><br><br>The net result here is that Ivy Bridge processors will be DirectX11 compatible, drive up to 3 screens (perhaps daisy-chained via Thunderbolt in portable devices) and will support features like hardware tesselation and significantly improved CODEC throughput. <br><br>For the majority of users, IvyBridge's integrated graphics will be more than adequate for most of their needs.
      [Update 2012-01-10 @ 14:01 PST]
      Here's a video of an UltraBook running a DX11 game on an IvB 4000 series GPU:
    • Atom smashing

      [ul][i]Their low-power competitor to ARM is the Atom.[/i][/ul]That's my point: if it stays that way, there's Trouble In River City. Trouble for Intel, because they won't get any design wins in the tablet market (except for a few specialized vertical market "gotta have Windows" devices where battery life doesn't matter).

      But also trouble for Microsoft, because the promise of "legacy Windows apps on ARM" just doesn't have the ring of truth to it. Sure, Microsoft's own apps, and maybe some of the "managed code" apps, but nowhere near what the "average Joe" will expect if you tell him that "this tablet runs Windows."

      Each side in the ARM vs x86 race has an advantage. A RISC design like ARM will always consume less power than an x86, given the same fabrication technology. But they don't have the same fabrication technology: Intel spends a lot of money staying ahead in that area, and they have some 25nm fabs coming on line that just might crank out x86 chips that can run with the ARMs as far as power is concerned. But we don't know that yet.
      Robert Hahn
    • @bitcrazed

      I got caught into Intel's trap before and I'm not falling for that one anymore. If you look at Intel's past of graphics promises, they don't have a good track record. First was the i740 graphics, which isn't hardly worth mentioning, IMO. Then you had the 800-series chipsets. Incompatible MPEG-2 decoders caused DVD decryption to fail. The 915G wasn't any better. Not only that, but the 915 onboard graphics was the reason why we had the "Vista Ready" failure. Then you have the 945, which was used by Pentium D's 6+ years ago, and yet also used by Atom netbooks- AGAIN Intel pressured Microsoft to make a "light" version of Windows to run on it because it didn't meet Windows 7's WHQL requirements of DX10 class video. At the same time, Intel licensed technology from PowerVR to put into the Z-series Atom's under the name "GMA 500". They were supposed to be DX10 compatible, so as to meet Windows Vista SP1 WHQL specs, but didn't have enough horsepower, what with only 2 shader cores, to run Aero. Windows recommeneded you turn Aero off on these chipsets - I KNOW, because I had one! Ramp up to the 3 and 4 series chipsets, and they only had enough power to run Aero and HD video, but 3D gaming was still out of the question. Then you go to the first Core iX chips and all they were was the 4-series video integrated into the CPU with ABSOLUTELY NO NEW FEATURES. Sandy Bridge increased performance only slightly, but only if you get an HD 3000 capable CPU. Plus, you also have the failures of Larrabee.

      So no, I have no faith in Intel actually delivering on something that they promise.
    • @Robert Hahn

      I know what you're saying.

      This is why I say to watch AMD. Last year, market analysts were saying to sell Intel stock, and AMD had better confidence with investors.

      RISC is fine, until you want to do media. When you want media and hardware acceleration, you're looking at the GPU. Intel doesn't have it - probably never will (I'm not holding my breath anyway - see my above reply). AMD gets this market, and they're whooping Intel's ass in pricing and features. ARM stuff is too far behind in media and 3D support too. They are accelerating development, which is good, but I don't know if they can keep up, unless they give up some headroom in the energy efficiency in favour of performance.

      I think AMD will see how well Windows 8 will fare before they announce any of their ARM plans, but they are heading that way if Microsoft can sway the bulk of software developers over to cross-platform managed code in WinRT. AMD will essentially rip the x86 cores out of their low-end APU's and replace them with ARM cores, so that you get the best energy-efficient general computing along with superior GPU acceleration and 3D support for multimedia.
    • RE: Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop remains (or does it?)

      @Joe_Raby - Larrabee was an R&D experiment which, while it didn't ship as a product, certainly contributed to Intel's GPU plans.

      IvyBridge isn't some mythical futuristic processor, its being manufactured as we speak. And as Anand says:

      "... a single Ivy Bridge EU gets close to twice the IPC of a Sandy Bridge EU - in other words, you're looking at nearly 2x the GFLOPS in shader bound operations as Sandy Bridge per EU. Combine that with more EUs in Ivy Bridge and this is where the bulk of the up-to-60% increase in GPU performance comes from."

      Sure, Intel's GPUs have been pretty low-end in the distant past, but their more recent parts have been more than adequate for most users' needs. Heck, even Apple opts for SandyBridge integrated graphics in the latest MacBook Air machines.

      If Intel are able to deliver IvB parts with the performance characteristics (and, frankly, I have little doubt that they will - Win8 is too important a market for Intel to miss), then an IvB CPU with 4000 series IGP will be more than enough for all but the most ardent gamers.