updated 02:15 pm EST, Thu February 9, 2012
Microsoft outlines Windows 8 ARM support
Microsoft's Windows lead Steven Sinofsky in an elaborate breakdown Thursday ended rumors and confirmed that Windows 8 on ARM would support a conventional desktop. Users could still have access to the file system, desktop Internet Explorer 10, and "most" other core features as their x86-running counterparts. Office 15 would carry over, too, and would have touch and power optimizations despite running in the conventional desktop space.
The company veteran added that Windows 8 on ARM wouldn't, however, be sold separately. Systems would be treated like a "consumer electronics device" where tight integration was essential, he said. The remarks were an indirect acknowledgment of the attempt to use Windows 8 on ARM to replicate the iPad model, where control over hardware and software meant Apple could get the performance and features it wanted.
ARM by its nature had significant customizations that weren't usually present with x86, Sinofsky claimed, and made the universal attitude less practical. Companies used to making ARM-based devices often had tight limits on what hardware and software they supported.
As a consequence, however, Microsoft was limiting apps to the Windows Store, whether they ran in Metro or not. Sinofsky claimed that Microsoft would keep the "lead in end-user choice" but didn't explain the contradiction when it now had the ability to reject apps from ARM-based Windows PCs at will. Windows 8 systems using Intel will be allowed to install apps as usual.
The OS should arrive for both x86 and ARM at the same time, Sinofsky said. Developers would finally get their first look at Windows 8 on ARM through a "low volume" of reference, non-production PCs as of the next Windows 8 milestone. All of these had already been spoken for. The public preview, in turn, would be a 64-bit x86 version.
The decisions at once preserve a mostly familiar experience but also significantly curbs what tablets and other ARM-based tablets will do with Windows 8. While it could allow access to some of the traditional Windows experience, the ARM-based tablets that will be competitive with the iPad and Android tablets will have some restrictions that dampen the advantages of having a full Windows OS on a tablet. Tablets using Intel's x86 will have the full platform, although these have usually been priced out of contention with mobile OS tablets and usually have the reduced battery lives and noisier cooling of conventional notebooks.
More questions about the real ARM experience might only be unveiled closer to the second half of 2012, when Microsoft ships Windows 8 to the public.