Microsoft Details Windows On ARM

Ever since Steve Ballmer announced that Windows 8 would support the low-power ARM processor architecture, people have been speculating about whether or not this version of Windows 8 would have a traditional desktop environment or not, and Microsoft has finally given a definitive answer – well, sort of.

The answer is that Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) will indeed have a desktop environment – but a very limited one. Windows unit President, Steven Sinofsky, in an exhaustive blog post on the matter, explained that WOA will have a desktop with a taskbar, which includes Windows Explorer, some of the desktop utilities which currently ship with Windows (which ones will be missing is unknown) and it will support applications.

However, those applications will be very limited. WOA will come with some Office apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote – that have been tuned to work in a battery efficient manner and they will work in the traditional Windows desktop environment. However they will be the only apps allowed to do so. “WOA will not support any type of virtualization or emulation approach, and will not enable existing x86/64 applications to be ported or run,” Sinofsky said.

This means that all other apps running on your new WOA machine will have to be the Metro-style apps we’ve seen Microsoft show off at CES recently. In contrast the x86 version of Windows 8 which will run on processors from Intel and AMD will be able to use all of the kinds of programs which traditionally run on Windows, in a Windows 7-like desktop environment. Microsoft has also confirmed that the only way to get these Metro-style apps is through the Windows Store – effectively creating a closed system akin to Apple’s iTunes and App Store – which backs up the point we make last month that Microsoft is turning into Apple.

Microsoft’s reasoning behind this move is that it believes by doing this, your new ARM devices will run more efficiently for longer: “Your WOA PC will continue to perform well over time as apps are isolated from the system and each other, and you will remain in control of what additional software is running on your behalf, all while letting the capabilities of diverse hardware shine through.”

The one other feature available in the desktop on WOA machines will be a version of Internet Explorer and Sinofsky also revealed that this version of IE will not support
Flash – which is probably an effort to ensure longer battery life.

Another question regarding the ARM version of Windows 8 was would ARM-based devices arrive at the same time as x86 PCs running the new software, and the answer is yes. “WOA PCs are still under development and our collective goal is for PC makers to ship them the same time as PCs designed for Windows 8 on x86/64.” When this will be is still up for debate but we expect to see PCs in shops in the second half of 2012.

A consumer preview of Windows 8 will be shown off on 29 February in Barcelona but Sinofsky said that the WOA version will not be available at this time.

If you want to get (a lot) more information on Windows on ARM, head over to the Building Windows 8 blog where you can read Steven Sinofsky’s 8,000-plus word post on the subject.

Let us know in the comments what you think of the limited desktop environment which will be available on the WOA machines. Is it an issue for you or do you think that a desktop environment is redundant on touch devices anyway?

Source: Building Windows 8

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