Windows 8 on ARM: The desktop is still there

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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....

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