Windows 8: Lingering questions and (a few more) answers

Will there be downgrade rights in Windows 8? Will line-of-business apps be able to be sideloaded on Windows RT? Slowly but surely, we're getting some answers.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

It may sound crazy, but even though users have started downloading the final Windows 8 bits over the past couple of weeks, there are still lots of questions about the product -- and its ARM-based complement, Windows RT.


Luckily, a few of the folks writing Windows 8 books are providing some answers.

Paul Thurrott and Rafael Rivera, coauthors of Windows 8 Secrets, posted this week a handy feature-comparison matrix, listing a couple dozen features that are supported to varying degrees in Windows 8 (the consumer SKU), Windows 8 Professional, Windows 8 Enterprise and Windows RT. They created this chart using a tool Rivera wrote, and acknowledge that it is generating the best-available (though maybe not entirely accurate) data at this point. 

The availability and lack thereof of some of these features has been noted and, in some cases, explained by the Windows team. (Example: No domain join supported in either Windows 8 consumer or Windows RT.) But in other cases, a few features on Thurrott's and Rivera's list that have generated even more questions. For example, if codecs, including H.264, are not supported on Windows RT, how will these systems play back media content?  And is there really no line-of-business app sideloading in anything other than Windows 8 Enterprise? If so, why not?

I asked the Windows team about the codecs and sideloading specifically, as many of my readers were asking about those two points in particular. Here's what a company spokesperson told me via e-mail:

Re: Codecs: "There’s a chart on the B8 blog “Building a rich and extensible media platform” that explicitly shows that several of those codecs will be available on Windows RT. MPEG-2 is the only one called out in their piece that is actually not going to be available on Windows RT. The others will be. It also says 'Formats popular among the enthusiast community or with specific developers such as FLAC, MKV, and OGG, can have their own CODECs packaged as part of a Metro style app, since the Windows 8 media platform is highly extensible,' Which implies the options can be extended through apps.

Re: Sideloading business apps on Windows RT machines: "It’s a bit nuanced as the process itself is somewhat different in Windows RT, but the below excerpt from this post, 'Managing 'BYO' PCs in the enterprise' (including Windows on ARM), explains how the side-loading of LOB (line of business) apps concept will for Windows RT –- it’s admittedly slightly different from the x86 side-loading process but the idea remains the same."

We Windows 8 curious got some more answers via ZDNet's Ed Bott, author of Windows 8 Head Start. Bott provided an answer this week to a question I've gotten a lot from my readers -- namely, will Microsoft provide downgrade rights to Windows 7 to those who purchase Windows 8. The short answer is yes. For the answer in full, read Bott's post, as it's challenging to condense into 140 characters the nuances of anything having to do with Microsoft licensing. Bott also said, based on his reading of the Windows 8 licensing documents, that Windows 8 will allow the installation of Windows 8 in a virtual machine.

In related news of potential interest to enterprise users looking at Windows 8. Microsoft has made available for download versions of a handful of its enterprise deployment tools that now support Windows 8.  This includes the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK), which replaces the Windows Automated Installation Kit for Windows 7; the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2012 Update 1, which integrates all the ADK tools into a single deployment process; and the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit 7.0, which helps for planning migrations to Windows 8 Enterprise.

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