Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

Summary: Microsoft has finally come clean about the Windows 8 on ARM mobile devices. It is being called WOA, but perhaps Windows Lite would be more appropriate.

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Microsoft has kept a veil over the Windows on ARM coming with Windows 8, until today. Windows unit President Steven Sinofsky has published a massive blog post detailing just how WOA, as Microsoft is calling Windows on ARM, will work. Sinofsky has answered questions that have been floating around about WOA, which is sounding like a more apt name for the product would be Windows Lite.

WOA, as in woa is mea, my apps don't work, will only be distributed through the purchase of new hardware. There will be no user installs of WOA, it must be preinstalled by the vendor. This makes sense given the OS is basically a firmware image on ARM-based equipment.

Sinofsky answered a big question about whether Windows 8 desktop apps will run on the ARM platform. That is a resounding no. The only desktop apps outside of system apps that will run on WOA systems are Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote. These are special versions for WOA tweaked for good battery performance on tablets and other mobile devices.

WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These new Office applications, codenamed “Office 15”, have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption, while also being fully-featured for consumers and providing complete document compatibility. WOA supports the Windows desktop experience including File Explorer, Internet Explorer 10 for the desktop, and most other intrinsic Windows desktop features—which have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption.

While Microsoft is stating that the Windows 8 desktop is alive and well in WOA, it only means system functions such as File Explorer. No existing legacy user apps will run in WOA, and it's not possible to port them to the new environment.

WOA does not support running, emulating, or porting existing x86/64 desktop apps.

The only way for users to get WOA apps and device drivers will be through the Microsoft Store or Microsoft/Windows Update. While not specifically stating it is forbidden, this would imply that users will not be able to sideload apps obtained through other sources. I am trying to get clarification from Microsoft on this.

WOA will support all new Metro apps, which as stated will be the only apps available on the ARM version of Windows. Microsoft is obviously planning on developers to churn out a lot of apps quickly, which will be a good thing if true.

The web browser in WOA will be based on Internet Explorer 10, and will not run Flash. The cancellation of Flash mobile by Adobe has every vendor reconsidering whether to even support it in new products, and Microsoft has chosen to avoid it.

With WOA only coming with device purchases, it is assumed Microsoft will keep updating the OS forever, right? This statement from Sinofsky leads us to hope that is the case, at least for a while. It sort of depends on whether Microsoft views the useful lifetime of the PC to be the same as the consumer.

Over the useful lifetime of the PC, the provided software will be serviced and improved.

A good takeaway from all of this new detail about WOA is that Microsoft has approached it to be a new hardware/software approach from the ground up. The new hardware will have a new OS and totally new apps designed to take full advantage of that environment. Since this is a totally new platform, it leads me to wonder why it had to be tagged with the Windows 8 moniker. It seems like a flashier name would be more fitting in the market. WOA just conjures up a sad mental image.

Since WOA is only distributed through hardware vendors Microsoft will make special non-retail hardware available with WOA for developers and vendors to preview. This will likely start happening at the end of this month when the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 on x86 will be available.

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

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35 comments
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  • Makes sense?

    "This makes sense given the OS is basically a firmware image on ARM-based equipment."

    A Windows installation on a desktop/notebook PC is an image on an HDD/SSD installed by the OEM or the owner later.

    Pretty weak justification. There may be many other reasons, such as driver support and lack of support for external media, but the "image" reason is pretty weak.
    D.T.Long
  • This is hardly surprising

    I never believed that Windows on ARM would support x86 apps.

    "WOA, as in woa is mea, my apps don???t work"

    Why wouldn't Metro apps work on WOA? They should work just fine. Apple did a good job of creating a platform where you can buy an app once and have it run on your iPhone and your iPad. Microsoft is simply taking it one step further where the same app will run on your smartphone, tablet, and desktop / laptop. That is a huge win for users.

    I have to admit that I find this gnashing of teeth regarding "backwards" compatibility to be quite amusing. You all tell us that Microsoft is killing itself because it tries so hard to maintain backwards compatibility and then when they stop, you tell us Microsoft is killing itself because it isn't maintaining backwards compatibility. It does make it hard to take any of what you people say seriously.
    toddybottom_z
    • RE: Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

      @toddybottom_z

      I will admit that I am still a bit skeptic about Windows 8 but I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the same app running on all those platforms. This is a goal of Microsoft to unify their offerings from their phones, tablets to computers/Laptops and even their game console. Microsoft is in a position where it could unify and reach the masses. One LiveID for many different platforms and services. Much more than Apple can offer especially since Microsoft seems at least a little bit willing to offer some of their services on third party devices and platforms. You won't see Apple offering iBooks, Facetime, or anything like that from Apple being used outside of their branded products. Heck, if it wouldn't have killed the iPod dead many years ago you may have never seen iTunes outside of MacOS.
      bobiroc
      • RE: Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

        @bobiroc Well let me point this out for you. Microsoft makes the bulk of their profit from selling software licenses. Microsoft is not selling Halo 3(or whatever the newest one is) for the PS 3. They???re not offering Zune, to Internet Explorer, (software) for any other OS. The software they do offer for competing platforms is always crippled for the other platforms. And by crippled, I mean has features missing.
        Joel-r
      • RE: Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

        @Joel-r You'd think that, but it doesn't seem to be true. Microsoft don't seem to cripple products running on other operating systems, quite the reverse. They do often decide to not offer a product, but that's something different.

        The current version of Halo is "Halo: Reach" (though there is a remake of the original Halo: Combat Evolved). Both are excellent products BTW ;-)

        A case in point is Office for the Mac. They don't make all the individual products available, but I don't think I'd claim that Word on the Mac is worse than Word on the PC. Now it isn't completely "Mac like" but that's a different issue entirely.
        jeremychappell
    • You make a good point

      @toddybottom_z
      On one hand the bloogers claim to improve, or move forward with Windows, they have to discard the backward compatibility, then in a different blog claim that to move Windows forward they have to maintain backward compatability.

      So which blog do we believe?
      William Farrel
      • RE: Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

        @William Farrel
        the answer is both.

        The way Microsoft doing is move the old stuff on to emulation/virtualization layer so that they could build Windows on new archetechure while maintaining backward compatibility.
        Samic
      • They are maintaining it on the desktop

        @Samic
        But the tablet is the perfect device to break backwards compatibility on since Windows tablets were never very popular. I think we are going to see a push towards developers creating Metro apps if it makes sense. In 10? years, the majority of new apps may very well be Metro apps and at that point, native support for Win32 apps could be removed and replaced with virtualization.
        toddybottom_z
    • Really tiny font

      @toddybottom_z
      [ul][i]the same app will run on your smartphone, tablet, and desktop / laptop.[/i][/ul]Does the BS never stop? The Munchkins have been running around ZDNet for months telling us all that once Windows 8 came out, Windows tablets would take over the world because they would run Windows apps, and that is what everyone wants.

      People who had written a few lines of code in their lives were highly skeptical of that claim, and now it turns out they were right.

      Now here you come with the reverse claim: that apps written for a touch-screen ARM machine will run just fine on your desktop. Well, let's ask the obvious questions: does your desktop have to be an ARM machine? Does it have to be running Windows 8? Do you have to be using the Metro interface on your desktop? Do you have to have a touch-screen monitor on your desktop?

      People kept asking for this kind of 'fine print' back when the claim was that legacy Windows apps would run on the desktop on ARM-based Windows tablets. Now that we see the fine print, it says, "It won't work." What does your fine print say?
      Robert Hahn
      • I know you hate Microsoft, it must be hard for you to think rationally

        @Robert Hahn
        "The Munchkins have been running around ZDNet"

        Why do you listen to munchkins? Doesn't sound like a smart thing to do. I don't listen to munchkins. I never believed Windows ARM tablets would run Win32 apps. I don't know if we will see any x86 tablets but I would guess that if we do, those will run Win32 apps just fine. I don't see why they wouldn't considering Microsoft has been releasing tablets for years that can run Win32 apps. Do you believe that x86 tablets will NOT be able to run Win32 apps? If so, please state it so we can discuss. If you believe that x86 tablets WILL be able to run Win32 apps then I'm not sure what you are complaining about.

        "Now here you come with the reverse claim: that apps written for a touch-screen ARM machine will run just fine on your desktop."

        How is the the reverse claim? It was the claim that was made from the very beginning. It was the original claim. I think you have your claims mixed up.

        "does your desktop have to be an ARM machine?"

        No. WinRT apps are CPU independent. People who have written a few lines of code in their lives would know this. Since you clearly didn't know this, we can start to infer things about your (lack of) knowledge regarding computers.

        "Does it have to be running Windows 8?" Presumably.

        "Do you have to be using the Metro interface on your desktop?" Yes.

        "Do you have to have a touch-screen monitor on your desktop?" No.

        "back when the claim was that legacy Windows apps would run on the desktop on ARM-based Windows tablets"

        Who claimed this? Microsoft? Please show where Microsoft claimed this.

        "What does your fine print say?"

        What it has always said. WinRT apps will run on smartphones, tablets, and desktops. Anyone who claimed anything above and beyond that were guessing, much like anyone claiming that iPad 3 will have NFC and Retina are guessing. If iPad 3 ends up having neither of these, does that mean that Apple was lying to us all along?

        So, in big font, that was available from the very beginning: the same app will run on your smartphone, tablet, and desktop / laptop.

        If this upsets you, that's your problem.
        toddybottom_z
    • RE: Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

      @toddybottom_z Well it is both. Having that huge back catalog is fantastic, because you have a lot of apps. Having that huge back catalog is a pain, because it makes it really hard to change anything.

      It is a problem, but a problem that any new OS would love to have.

      The thing is everyone wants the impossible: make the best OS available, and keep everything working. Can't be done. So no matter, how good a job Microsoft do, someone will be unhappy. In general, I think the advantage of backward compatibility is overstated. But that's easy to say until it's the application you rely on that won't run.

      Microsoft won't be able to please everyone. But, I don't think Windows 8 on ARM is going to hold a candle to Windows 8 on x86_64, that seems a lot easier to swallow.
      jeremychappell
  • Looks like this is pure comsumer product

    Not for enterprise.
    I may just wait for Haswell - next generation of intel cpu.
    ZenithY
    • RE: Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

      @ZenithY

      Tablets by their very nature are designed to be a one user product. That being said I think Microsoft is in a good place to start bridging that gap though and offer enterprise better tools to manage Windows based tablets.
      bobiroc
    • RE: Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

      @ZenithY : They said the same thing about the iPhone and then the iPad. Both have entered the market - even with their very weak enterprise support.
      Gisabun
      • RE: Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

        @Gisabun

        Weak enterprise support? Just ask all the companies that recently dropped RIM devices for their enterprise business solutions and replaced them with iOS devices. Week enterprise support indeed!
        kenosha77a
  • WOA or WHOA? If you care just get an x64 soc tablet. Theyll be out shortly

    and be vastly better devices.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Wait! Keep waiting! Don't buy anything!

      @Johnny Vegas
      Have you been officially authorized to 'Osborne' the ARM-based Windows tablets? You are basically assuring people that if they wait instead of buying anything, Good Things will happen. Not to the OEMs who went ahead and made ARM-based Windows tablets.
      Robert Hahn
      • I'm going to wait

        @Robert Hahn
        I see no need to buy an iPad 3 to replace my iPad 2 so I'm very happy to wait. I'm hoping these tablets end up being really good competition for the iPad. Don't you? If you hope they don't compete with the iPad, can I ask why? Why are you hoping for less competition?
        toddybottom_z
      • Squirrels and birds sharing a tree

        @toddybottom_z
        I'm not convinced that chasing Apple's tail is a good use of Microsoft's resources. It would seem like there's more money in enterprise software and services. But they can spend their dough any way they want, so they're welcome to try it.

        I don't see any evidence that Apple cares much what Microsoft does from a competition standpoint. Macs sort of went on their merry way -- feature-wise and price-wise -- for 30 years without much influence from Microsoft's "competition." In phones, the competition was Blackberry and Motorola, not Microsoft. In tablets there really wasn't anyone Apple was (seriously) competing with.

        Can Microsoft really make Apple sharpen their game? Not that I can see. I think Apple needs sharper competition than that.
        Robert Hahn
  • Sounds terrible

    No Windows left in there at all!
    As my uncle used to say "lager is beer with all the goodness taken out".

    So, vendor lock in:
    - OEM only
    - no legacy applications (except for a few from M$)
    - app. store products only
    - 20-30% tax
    - IE without extensibility
    The only Windows-like things we'd recognise ... are a few consumerised applications.

    I was hoping for the option to have a cheap ARM based PC for light work.
    Looks like even a thin-client setup is out.

    Small computer with Windows Only Absent.

    Yuk.
    jacksonjohn