Microsoft is working on a new version of its flagship Windows operating system which will run on computers with ARM-based processors as well as x86 chips. We’ve known that since January. What we didn’t know for certain was what it would mean for legacy apps. But now Intel is confirming that the version of Windows 8 which will run on ARM-based computers will not be able to run applications designed for Windows 7 and earlier — at least not without some modifications.

There are thousands, if not millions of applications that have been written to run on Windows computers with x86 chips. ARM-based processors use a completely different architecture, so it’s not surprising that you won’t be able to run older apps on Windows 8 machines with ARM chips. It is disappointing though.

The good news is that there will be multiple versions of Windows, including builds for x86 and builds for ARM. The ARM-based versions will be optimized for tablets and other mobile devices, while the x86 versions will likely have better compatibility with legacy software.

This does raise a question though: What exactly is the benefit of running Windows on ARM if you can’t run Windows apps on ARM?

At launch it’s likely that Microsoft’s core apps including the Windows Live suite, Office, and… Solitaire, will be available for both ARM and x86. But until third party developers start to compile ARM versions of their apps, Windows will face the same challenges any new tablet/mobile operating system does: a paucity of quality apps.

By the time Windows 8 for ARM is available later this year or early next year it will have to compete not only with Apple iOS, Google Android, and a number of Linux distributions, but also HP webOS, Research in Motion’s QNX environment, and any other mobile operating systems that happen to pop up between now and then.

Update: Microsoft is denying Intel’s claims about Windows 8… without actually clarifying which parts of the statement are wrong. It could be that the operating system could support at least some legacy apps… or it could just be that Microsoft isn’t working on as many separate versions of the operating system as claimed.

via Bloomberg and The Register

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16 replies on “Older Windows apps won’t run on Windows 8 for ARM”

  1. Gah. Stop acting stupid. Think. Microsoft went out of their way to say that they are porting Windows 8 to the tablet. A port that cannot run the same software is not a port. They might as well have created another OS.

    So stop acting like people are stupid for thinking that, when Microsoft said they were porting, they actually meant it. An OS that can’t run Windows programs isn’t Windows.

    Plus, how the hell could they get a decent number of apps on their new platform if they don’t announce this so that developers can start working on an ARM version? The whole point of using Windows is the preexisting library. It’s what makes Windows 8 attractive for a tablet platform. Anything else is just Microsoft blowing smoke.

    AND NOTICE THAT MICROSOFT RESPONDED TO THE BACKLASH. If this really was accurate, it would be stupid to try to imply it wasn’t. Now that it’s out, there’s no reason not to leave it out so that devs can start planning.

    In summation, you don’t know what you think you know.

  2. Just tell me I can flash it on to my WM6 ipaq with the 667MHz ARM CPU, and all will be forgiven for the years of persistent bugs and forced hardware upgrades with WM OS revs.

  3. Hasn’t this been known for a long time? I remember first reading about this when news of Win8 first came out. Remember there was a format (somethingx) that would be compatible between both, so developers would start working on that instead of only x86. Maybe I’m confusing this regarding something else.

  4. The point being it is a new tablet only version of the OS to compete with consumption devices like the ipad and the android slates.  It makes sense since people in that market would complain about any windows build that wasn’t tablet only.  So you have win 8 for arm that is tablet only and regular win 8 that has touch features for those wanting more power and productivity out of their slate. 

    I prefer this approach to trying to make one OS that will never suit everyone.   It makes sense for the consumer and it makes sense for Microsoft.

    All in all I feel Microsoft are heading in the right direction with phones, tablets and windows.

  5.  So, when Microsoft ports its new operating system to a new architecture it won’t also be porting software that it never had a hand in writing to the new architecture?  This sounds more like common sense than news.  It’s also extremely common

    The weird part about this is that the same people who seem to whine an awful lot about how “Windows doesn’t work well on tablets” are now whining that applications that apparently don’t work well on tablets won’t be ported to tablets.  For non-“tablet” ARM-based products, Windows on ARM will represent a new opportunity for consumers and developers.  I’m not sure why “new” means “bad” just because it doesn’t mean “same”.

    I actually like the Microsoft approach to this.  They’re not dropping support for their previously supported architectures.  They’re just expanding support to new architectures.  This isn’t doing something wrong.  This is doing something new.  A lot of operating systems do this.  If you check out any of the Debian-derived operating systems then you’ll see that the distribution gets ported, and then something has to be done to get software compiled and packaged for the new target architecture.  The alternative is to do something less than savory like phase out an architecture, eventually dropping it completely and obsolescing all of the hardware that was once useful.  That’s the move of junk companies.

    1. Windows NT once had support for MIPS, Alpha, and PowerPC… (also i860, Clipper, and Sparc but those were never released)

    2.  To be fair, it was possible Microsoft would have some manner of emulating x86 to run legacy apps more slowly, much like Apple did and like some earlier Linux projects on other architectures did.

      Also, Microsoft’s problem is bigger than the various open source OSes on multiple platforms due to the later being able to recompile — Microsoft often won’t have source access for apps.

    3. Since there are Unix / Linux Variants on all of these – the hardware didn’t become absolutely useless, but:

      Win NT Versions for DEC Alpha, MIPS and PowerPC were commercialy available from NT 3.1/3.51 on, NT 4.0 started phasing out MIPS and PowerPC as neither all security updates nor later Servicepacks were made publicly available, and hopes for continuation of the DEC Alpha port died since it never made it past NT5 (Win 2000)  RC2.

      So MS is one of those “junk companies”.

    4. Your points are only relevant to ARM tablets, comparable to Google developing a tablet specific version of Android with Honeycomb and having similar out of box limitations, but Windows 8 will be run on more than just tablets and ARM will be going into some of those other devices and not limited to touch only interfaces. 

      Such as ARM based notebooks, among other examples that would have benefited from Windows legacy software support.

      It’ll also take time to port/convert software.  Even MS may start out only offering their flagship programs like MS Office.  So ARM systems with Windows 8 may be limited to mostly just what the OS comes with.  While other developers may not be able to support multiple platforms and may stick with traditional x86 and that’ll limit choices for Windows users on ARM systems.

      So even though this approach means software will be better optimized for ARM and configured better for devices like tablets, but the limitation will still impair the reasons people may have switched from x86 to ARM if Windows was no longer a deciding factor, especially for non-tablet devices.

  6.  Why would Intel be providing this….uh….Intel?  Heck I could have provided it as this is a different architecture!  Changing the processor’s command set usually causes this kind of stuff to happen.  Microsoft would have to make Visual Studio produce fat binaries just like Apple did with the switch to Intel.

  7. At the very least, MS should call it Windows 8a (a for ARM).  I agree
    that there’s little point in having different products with the same name.
    It only causes confusion and disappointment.

    Guess they didn’t learn the lesson from Windows CE, Pocket PC, and Windows NT, which had all those different and incompatible versions.

    Memo to ARM:  rush out your multicore products and dedicate 1 or more core(s) to execution of a x86 translation layer.

    Btw, Intel is not much better.  It didn’t bother to rename the gen 2 Core i CPUs (Sandy Bridge) from the gen 1 versions.  And computer manufacturers don’t always state whether a particular product uses gen 2 chips.

    1. A chip with an ARM core and reasonable performance x86 execution support would be an x86 chip with an ARM core hanging on the side, not an ARM chip with an x86 translation layer.

      1. This is something an AMD or VIA could do, although AMD seems
        to deny they would do it.

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